Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars
Bottom Line: A fascinating look at Cold War political intrigue. Directed by Spielberg and written by the Coen brothers!?
“Bridge of Spies” is more two hour long episodes in a TV series than it is one movie. The first episode shows insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) being called by his nation to defend Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (brilliantly played by Mark Rylance). Instead of putting up a half-hearted defense of the almost assuredly guilty Abel, Donovan enacts a full-throated Constitutional defense of the spy much to the chagrin of the rest of the country. Donovan represents everything that is right with the United States while the rest of the country represents everything that is wrong with the United States. This is just one of many examples in our history of how we fetishize the Constitution until it becomes inconvenient to do so. Then we just throw it away until it no longer poses the inconvenience. A true test of a belief is when it becomes inconvenient to believe it and we fail miserably at those tests all too often. There is kind of a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” feel for this half of the film with the one good and unassuming person against the establishment. Only not quite as comical.
Episode two has Donovan returning to some sort or normalcy when his nation calls upon him once again. This time, he has to negotiate a spy swap between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. The swap is between Abel and shot down U-2 pilot Gary Powers. Donovan goes to Berlin and travels back and forth between East and West Berlin to broker the deal. This is more of a spy/political intrigue episode as we see how three vying factions work things out to make the trade. Once again, Donovan bucks authority and bargains for a third person to be released. And once again, Donovan is fighting to do the right thing while his country simply wants him to do the expedient thing.
I was amazed, as the closing credits rolled, to find out that this was written by the Coen brothers along with Mark Chapman. I was thinking why they wouldn’t advertise that and the answer immediately hit me that this is not a Coen brothers movie and advertising it as such would only lead to disappointment. Putting Spielberg’s name along with Tom Hanks was the correct choice.
I highly recommend this movie for anyone who is a Cold War buff. Or history in general. I’m not sure how true to life the movie is, but Donovan should certainly be looked upon as one of the greatest Americans of the time. He took on challenges no one else would and defended the Constitutional ideal to the best of his abilities. Who could ask for anything more?