Bridge Of Spies

by Dale Reynolds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday February 11, 2016

Bridge Of Spies

"Bridge of Spies," Steven Spielberg's latest film is a suspenseful, if not particularly scary, tale based on a true story of American v. Soviet spying during the late 1950s.

One Rudolph Abel (the great Mark Rylance), living quietly in Brooklyn, NYC, paints still-lifes and portraits while secretly acting as a Soviet go-between for sensitive information on local and national military moves. When he is discovered, an Insurance lawyer, James Donovan (our very own Tom Hanks), with limited experience as a defense lawyer, but with experience prosecuting Nazi criminals at the Nuremberg trials after Germany's loss of World War II, is assigned to defend Abel.

At the same time, a group of young airmen are trained as pilots of a brand-new and sophisticated spy-plane. One of them, 26-year-old Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is flying 70,000 feet above a sensitive Soviet Air Force base when he is shot down by missiles and captured after he parachutes out.

These acts of aggression (our spying; their defense) gives both countries an actual out by swapping their prisoners. So, Donovan's job is to negotiate the deal. Ah, but there's a further complication: a young American Ph.D. student (whose thesis is on East German Economics), Frederick Pryor (Will Rogers), is captured by East German guards the day the Berlin Wall was finished trying to get his girlfriend out to the West.

Our noble lawyer then insists, against the will of our ever-so-kind CIA, that Abel will not be swapped for Powers - without releasing Pryor too. In a nutshell, the film's writers, Matt Charman and Ethan & Joel Coen, have us watch and wait for the answers to this delicate diplomatic dilemma.

Spielberg, of course, being the consummate professional he is, manages right up to the end to make it engaging, engrossing and a wonderful Space-Mountain ride, except for his insistence on his usual sentimentalism at the ending. Not only is it historically pretty accurate (although the tip-off lies at the beginning wherein we read "Inspired by actual events," which is ShowBiz-speak for "this is mostly what happened, but not necessarily in what we show you." Audiences, by and large, do prefer "happy" endings to "sad" or "monstrous" ones, and so Spielberg colors it with a layer of Splendora to make it easier to walk away from. This is carping, to be sure, but it's a problem Europeans have, for instance, with most American fare as we, apparently, cannot take cynicism or even reality, lest we be discomforted.

This act of aggression (our spying; their defense) gives both countries an actual out by swapping their prisoners. So, Donovan's job is to negotiate the deal.

That tiny glitch aside, however, this is a watchable film, with money well-spent on rebuilding the Berlin Wall of 1961 in Poland, which still has architecture from the pre-War period, the costumes, the amazing detail of the period in autos and props, and a superlative cast, Hanks, Ryland, and the young'ons, including Amy Ryan has the frightened wife of Mr. Donovan; Alan Alda as his insurance companies boss; Billy Magnussen; Wolfgang Vogel as the E. German lawyer/ negotiator; Harald Ott as another German official, and so on, including the extras. Excellent acting from all, as one would expect.

The bonus material, which explains a lot of how the film was made, is also valuable.

All-in-all, a film worth seeing more than once. If you can forgive the softness of the ending.

"Bridge of Spies"

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