Review - Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies (2015), PG-13, 141 minutes - I'm a sucker for historical dramas so this film, a Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks collaboration, was a must see in my mind.  Unfortunately, I didn't get around to seeing it as quickly as I would have liked.  Fortunately though, it enjoyed a fairly decent theatrical run, allowing me to finally check it out a couple of weeks ago.

Bridge of Spies is based upon events that occurred in the 1960's: the Cold War prisoner exchange of suspected spies between the United States and Russia, and the unexpected catalyst of the exchange negotiations: an insurance settlement lawyer named James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks).  Donovan is first asked to act as defense lawyer for suspected Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).  It is of no concern to anyone that Donovan has limited defense experience as Abel only needs representation so that the court can go through the motions of 'due process'.  At a time when the threat of nuclear war was at its peak, no one really believes that Abel could possibly be innocent.  Donovan believes strongly in our judicial system and treats the case as though his client is innocent.  While Abel is found guilty of being a spy, Donovan's arguments in his defense limit his sentence to 30 years in prison as opposed to the death penalty.  A short time later, an American pilot named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), is shot down over Russia while flying a U-2 spy plane.  Donovan is approached to act as an independent negotiator, independent of either government with the hopes that he may be able to successfully secure Powers' release.  As if that weren't challenging enough, the East German government gets in the mix, informing the United States that they have arrested an American exchange student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) as a suspected spy when, after visiting his German girlfriend, he tried to cross from East Berlin to West Berlin as the Berlin Wall is being constructed.  Donovan now finds himself negotiating on two fronts in an attempt to get all three prisoners home safely.    

There are a number of other familiar faces in the cast including Alan Alda (Thomas Watters, Jr.), Amy Ryan (Mary Donovan), Jesse Plemons (Joe Murphy), Domenick Lombardozzi (Agent Blasco), and Michael Gaston (Agent Williams) but the performances from Hanks and Rylance are what really make Bridge of Spies stand out.  I wouldn't be surprised if either nabbed an Oscar nomination for their roles, especially Rylance.

I have little doubt that some liberties were taken with this story in order to make it more enthralling for the big screen, but if you're a fan of films based on historical events, or of the works of Steven Spielberg or Tom Hanks, then Bridge of Spies is a must see.  It really is an amazing and intriguing tale from a fascinating time period.  


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