Movie Review – ‘Bridge of Spies’

“Tom Hanks is perfectly cast.  A fascinating legal and political chess match… Two adversaries holding men with vast knowledge of their homeland’s secrets.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF


This latest collaboration between Academy Award winners Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks offers an engrossing behind-the-scenes flashback into the high-stakes Cold War dynamics of U.S. and Soviet Union relations in 1957.  A fascinating legal and political chess match that spotlights each superpower’s desperate need to win the information war using spooks and the court of public opinion.  “Bridge of Spies” takes viewers on a brisk history lesson through a series of true events, all designed around the nuclear distrust and tension leading up the United States vs. Soviet Union stare down during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962.

Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as real-life attorney James Donovan, an affable family man who defends our legal system and a client’s right to a fair shake in court–even when his defendant is an accused Soviet spy and the American public is willing, momentarily, to turn its back to our U.S. Constitution.

“Bridge of Spies” is not an action-packed military affair or even a political suspense thriller.  It’s a personal story about Jim Donovan (Hanks) and his attorney-client relationship that grows out of a mutual respect and sense of duty.  The screenplay’s collaborative effort by newcomer Matt Charman and the Oscar-winning Coen brothers (Ethan and Joel), provides an accelerated timeline which blurs collective years in order to give Hanks more screen time as the head-strong legal defender Donovan.

As issues with fairness, due process and negotiations slowly unfold over a possible prisoner exchange in Germany, “Bridge of Spies” only faintly draws on the escalating geopolitical tension with a military twist.  This mistakenly downplays Soviet spy Rudolf Abel’s actual 4 years spent in a U.S. prison and American U-2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers’ nearly 2 years being jailed outside Moscow following his 10-year espionage conviction.

Movie-goers seeking an intriguing legal drama amidst two adversaries holding men with vast knowledge of their homeland’s secrets will find “Bridges of Spies” a captivating gambit to watch.  This Cold War dialogue of mistrust and intelligence-gathering offers Hanks’ portrayal of James Donovan the opportunity to stack our U.S. Constitution and legal fairness against any other system in the world.


Both Hanks and Mark Rylance (as Soviet spy Abel) give standout and convincing performances.  Although this film lacks some depth of coverage for certain historic events, it fields early proof of the cooperative ways between the U.S. and Soviet Union when a country’s security needs must be met.  A dramatic willingness to step away from the ledge–by both nuclear sides.  And eight months after these “Bridge of Spies” events took place at Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge and Checkpoint Charlie, another test of U.S.-Soviet wills ensued in the waters surrounding Cuba. But that’s a different story and time.

Grade: B+

“Bridge of Spies” is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.  Its running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.


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