Hallelujah! It’s so rare today that a totally engrossing and adult (no, not that kind of adult) film hits the big screen. ‘Bridge of Spies’ is not a sequel, it doesn’t feature superheroes and nothing blows up, but you must see it.
Get ready to be on the edge of your seat throughout the entirety of Bridge of Spies, the gripping new film hitting theaters, Oct 16. It stars Tom Hanks as lawyer James Donovan, who gets the surprise assignment to defend a suspected Russian spy in the Cold War-era US, circa 1960. Now, guys, don’t sigh and think you don’t feel like reviewing your history books. Though Steven Spielberg‘s film is based on actual events that took place in the US, Russia and East Germany during 1960-62, it feels nothing like a school lesson.
It’s an intelligent and at times chilling thriller from start to finish. In other words, buy your popcorn beforehand, because you will not want to leave your seat, once it begins. Here’s the plot: James Donovan, a Brooklyn insurance lawyer, gets an unlikely assignment that he can’t refuse from the CIA. He’s asked to defend a suspected Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), who’s been arrested in the city.
The country is in the middle of the terrifying Cold War with the Soviet Union, when children like Donovan’s own young son, are being taught at school to take cover under their desks in the event that a nuclear bomb is dropped on NYC. Given these circumstances, everyone and his mother — including the CIA, Donovan’s wife and the judge assigned to the case — are telling the intrepid lawyer to give Abel the most basic defense required by law, be done with the case and let him be executed for his crimes.
But Donovan’s moral principles just can’t allow him to blow off his duties as an attorney. The CIA, which assigned him to the case, didn’t expect that Donovan would bring his lawyers’ expertise and his deep respect for the American Constitution to heart in this case, plus he bonds with his secretive Soviet client. From Donovan’s perspective — (hello, current Republican party and your Benghazi committee) — he ardently believes that you can’t allow popular hysteria or political agendas (i.e. derailing Hillary Clinton) to conveniently sideline American legal principles, even if it means ensuring that a Soviet spy gets a fair trial.
‘Bridge Of Spies’: You’ll Be At The Edge Of Your Seat
Donovan does everything in his power, despite threats against him, to do this. In the process, he comes to respect Abel for his devotion to his cause and country. The respect goes two ways, which results in some amusing irony at the end of the film. Besides being drafted into defending a spy, Donovan unexpectedly ends up getting tapped to secretly negotiate a very tricky, undercover and dangerous swap between Abel and a downed US spy pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), who is shot down over the Soviet Union.
This is where the film gets as on the edge-of-your-seat nail biting as any Mission: Impossible, James Bond or Jason Bourne thriller, except that this REALLY happened to James Donovan, an ordinary citizen. And Donovan proves that he is anything but ordinary. All of his courage, smarts and wiliness are in full overdrive, as he has to slip into murky East Berlin in the midst of the building of the infamous Wall to divide the city. Desperate East Berliners are being shot in front of Donovan’s eyes, but he persists on his dangerous mission, even adding to its trickiness when he learns that an innocent American grad student, Frederick Pryor (Will Rogers) has been arrested in the besieged city and is freezing in prison.
There couldn’t be a better time for Bridge of Spies to hit the big screen. Yes, we’re desperate for a mentally challenging, grown-up film, but it’s also high time to showcase integrity. At a time when Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and other Republican contenders for president are all about throwing out the parts of the Constitution that don’t serve their immediate political purposes, Bridge of Spies celebrates the enduring American principles of justice, fairness and integrity for all — even including our enemies.
Hollywoodlifers — would you like to see Bridge of Spies? Let me know.
— Bonnie Fuller