Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” (PG-13) is basically the real-life story of the capture and exchange of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) for an American U-2 spyplane pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) and an American student who wandered into East Germany, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers). The exchange of the high flying American and the American student (who was just in the wrong East Berlin place at the wrong time) for the professional deep cover Russian spy is accomplished by a very competent American attorney, James Donovan (Tom Hanks).
Rylance, who played the Russian spy, is a superb actor. His role is not that of the dashing undercover man about the world, but rather in look and in manner as just another working class clerk in a US which ignores such people. When caught, he will not compromise with the Americans and is reluctant to trust his attorney. Will Rogers, the student, is perfect for his role—first astonished, then frightened. But the actor who carries the water is Tom Hanks.
Hank’s James Donovan has to both negotiate with the Russians, who are ultimately sleazy, and an equally sleazy and a more hostile East German government that doesn’t want to release a perfectly innocent student. How Donovan did it, and the cost he paid, is a Cold War tale, reminiscent in mood and setting to Martin Ritt’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (1965), but with a much happier ending.
I think Hanks should be nominated for an Oscar, but I am not a member of the Academy. Watching this film brought me back to the bad old days of the Cold War in every detail. Bravo, Spielberg!