Bridge of Spies is a film based on true events, centered around lawyer James B. Donovan's defense of accused Russian spy, Rudolf Abel, and the subsequent negotiations on hostage exchange between the United States, Russia and East Germany. Set in 1957 during the Cold War between the United States and Russia, anti-communist sentiment was at an all time high in the U.S and the geopolitical fallout of Eastern Europe in the post WWII era added another complicated wrinkle to relations between the East and West.
The first attractive characteristic about this film is that it's directed by Steven Spielberg, co-written by the Coen brothers and its main protagonist, James B. Donovan, is portrayed by Tom Hanks. This film practically earns an Oscar nod on clout alone. As is often said, movies are a director's medium. So if it's the Coen Brothers involvement in this project which interests you, than you may be disappointed. Not that Bridge of Spies isn't well written because it very much so is, especially the dialogue. However the trademark Coen Brothers tropes aren't existent. Spielberg's fingerprints however are all over this film. Mainly that unquantifiable Spielberg feeling that all his great movies carry. Tom Hanks performance is great as usual and his portrayal of James B. Donovan presents an intelligent, defiant man who seemingly always has the upper hand in every conversation. Donovan's heroism in this film can be attributed to his view of humanity as all being equal and deserving of due process. Not to mention his unwavering belief in the truth and the obligation to be objective.
The trailer presents a fast paced, heart pounding political thriller and gives you the impression that Bridge of Spies is an action packed Cold War espionage film. It's not. Bridge of Spies is more of a cerebral, court room drama and character film and honestly, I'm fine with that. I usually don't like it when trailers mislead the viewer as to what they can expect but in this case I was significantly happier with what I got.
The story in Bridge of Spies takes place in 1957 Brooklyn. Rudolf Abel is arrested for espionage age is accused of being a KGB spy. Abel is put on trial, mainly to keep the Russians from using this event as propaganda and the U.S hires esteemed insurance lawyer James B. Donovan to defend Abel, despite the fact Donovan hasn't been a criminal lawyer in some time. Against the wishes of his family, Donovan takes the case and, in a time of strong anti-communist fear and resentment, Donovan is looked at as a traitor. The Judge on the trial and the general public seem to have very little interest in due process for Abel and seem content to fry him on the electric chair the first chance they get.
Things become more difficult for Donovan as he learns the CIA used nefarious and illegal tactics to ultimately arrest Abel. This combined with Donovan's view of Abel as a human being and not a traitor (because Abel is Russian and therefore not a traitor to the US). Donovan is compelled to truly defend Abel, which makes him a traitor himself to the public eye. Donovan and Abel, due to overwhelming evidence lose the case. However this is where the story behind because Donovan's one victory is to convince the judge not to sentence Abel to death. This way Abel can be used as a trade in the case an American spy is captured. Weeks later when a U2 spy plane is shot down over Russian air-space an American serviceman is taken hostage.
Now Donovan is sent to East Germany to negotiate a trade for the two spies between the US and Soviet governments and hope to convince East Germany to release a hostage of their own, a 25 year old American student who the East Germans are holding as a power play in an attempt to get a seat at the table with the World's two greatest superpowers. This mission is successful, will give Donovan a chance to repair he and his family's image, although possibly at great cost.
Overall I really enjoyed Bridge of Spies. The cast was great, set design phenomenal and directing superb. While it doesn't have great potential to be re-watchable film with my buddies, it was definitely worth the first viewing and maybe a second. I don't think Bridge of Spies has a real chance to win best picture but it absolutely deserved the nomination and tells a story all Americans should hear. That's my review for Bridge of Spies, what did you think? Also be sure to check out my review for other 2016 best picture nominations to come shortly.