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A Reel Life film section

Issue: March 2016

Bridge of Spies (2015) movie review

Cold Warrior

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During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an experienced negotiator. As a lawyer he specialises in insurance lawyer. He is an ordinary, polite, educated, everyman. He has a family, he travels to work on the train, and when Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested for espionage, Donovan finds himself nominated to provide the best defence America can give.

movie poster, Bridge of Spies, Festivale film review; 220x322

Movie poster, Bridge of Spies
In the shadow of war, one man showed the world what we stand for

It's a noble calling that nobody wants, because in the height of the hysteria and hatred, who wants to be associated with a communist spy? But Donovan's boss (Alan Alda) prevails.

movie still, Bridge of Spies, Festivale film review; 600x400

Rudolf Abel (Rylance) and James Donovan (Hanks), noble men on either side of the Cold War (c) 20th Century Fox

Donovan and his family discover just how deeply the hatred goes as the trial progresses. He loses, but persuades the judge not to decide on the death penalty because Abel was an insurance policy against the possibility that the U.S. might want to swap him for a spy of their own.

Which is where some of us will flash back to the TV movie Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident with Lee Majors (1976).

Suddenly, Donovan is called upon to negotiate once again, this time with the Russians for the return of a downed pilot from a spy plane.

Set in 1957, this film does paint a picture of the kind of hysteria that caused people to hunt down communists and their sympathisers (see Trumbo). Children are taught to "duck and cover" to shield themselves from nuclear blasts.

Donovan is played by Hanks as an everyman (with a legal brain). He has a strong sense of right and wrong, and empathy, and these drive his actions.

movie still, Bridge of Spies, Festivale film review; 600x400

James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) beside the now-destroyed Berlin Wall (c) 20th Century Fox

In a strange way, this version of the story has heroes on both sides of the cold war, and bad guys on both sides of the Cold War.

One of Spielberg's better directing efforts, Bridge of Spies is a strong film with a compelling story that relies on the writing and the acting, not loud special effects and music.


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by Ali Kayn
Australian release 22 Oct 2015
For credits and official site details, see below
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See also: Trumbo

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See more films to be released in Oct 2015

Just the facts:

Title: Bridge of Spies (2015)
Written by: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coeni
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Running time: 142 mins
Rating: M

The Players: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda,

Official website:
IMDb entry

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