“BRIDGE OF SPIES” My rating: B+
142 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Tom Hanks’ singular status as this century’s James Stewart pays off big time in “Bridge of Spies,” Steven Spielberg’s recreation of one of the Cold War’s lesser known stories.
As the real-life James Donovan, a New York insurance lawyer pulled into the world of espionage and international intrigue, Hanks is wry, moving, and astonishingly ethical. He practically oozes bedrock American decency.
Which was precisely what this movie needs.
The screenplay by the Coen Brothers and Matt Charman runs simultaneously on four tracks.
In the first Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested in NYC in 1957 by federal agents. As no lawyer wants to represent him, the Bar Association basically plays spin the bottle — and assigns the job to Donovan.
Jim Donovan believes that every accused person deserves the best defense possible. In fact, he alienates the judge, the feds, and the general public by standing up for his client’s rights and assuming that this is going to be a fair trial when everybody else wants just to go through the motions before sentencing Abel to death.
On a parallel track is the story of Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), a military flyboy recruited for a top-secret project and trained to spy on the U.S.S.R. from a one-man U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. Alas, on his very first mission in 1960 he’s shot down, fails in an attempt to commit suicide, and falls into the hands of the Commies.
Then there’s the arrest in 1961 of Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American grad student studying economics who finds himself trapped on the wrong side of the newly constructed Berlin Wall and vanishes into the labyrinthine East German justice system.
All this comes to a head when Donovan, several years after Abel’s conviction, is dispatched to Berlin in an ex officio capacity to arrange a swap of the Soviet spy for Francis Gary Powers. And if in the process he can somehow free Fred Pryor from a damp cell, so much the better.
The yarn is so big and dramatic that it seems improbable…yet it happened. (What’s more, a few years later Donovan was dispatched to Cuba to negotiate the release of anti-Communists captured in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.)