Mark Rylance plays the Soviet agent Rudolf Abel, a man apprehended by the FBI at the height of Russia/US tensions. Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan, the idealistic lawyer tasked with defending the spy at a trial expected to end in Abel’s conviction and execution.
Although Abel is found guilty of spying on America, Donovan successfully pleads for his life, arguing he would be a useful bargaining tool should a US agent be captured in Russia. Some time later, this decision proves to be very valuable.
When a U-2 spy plane is shot down over Russia and the pilot captured, Donovan is drafted in as an unofficial hostage negotiator, organising a handover amidst the murky dealings of two countries on the brink of war.
The film starts with a terrific chase/arrest sequence in 1957 Brooklyn and from that moment you know you’re looking at something which has been impeccably designed and realised. The whole thing showcases Spielberg’s considerable skill as an eminently skilful craftsman.
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The script, co-written by the Coen brothers, is similarly well assembled, creating a taut espionage movie which harks back to classics like The Third Man. Hanks and Rylance excel in bringing this script to life, and the latter is well worth the Best Supporting Actor Oscar he won recently.
It is a film of contrasts, comparisons and subtle parallels. Obvious surface differences between the straightforward American lawyer and the enigmatic Soviet spy, and contrasts between democratic New York and communist Berlin, hide compelling similarities which become apparent throughout the film.
It’s an excellent exercise in narrative storytelling, and while it’s always shadowy without ever really getting its hands dirty, the film remains compelling throughout. Bridge of Spies showcases top class directing, acting and writing and is well worth watching.