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Movie Night – Spielberg, Hanks team up in 'Bridge of Spies' (Oct. 28, 2015 issue)

Every person matters. No matter who you are or what you are, every person matters. That’s the theme of “Bridge of Spies,” the latest collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks.
Close your eyes and travel back in time to America in 1957. The Cold War is at its peak. School children are shown videos of atomic bombs exploding and taught how to survive a nuclear war. Everyone in America is scared of the Soviet Union, the great evil empire of communists that threaten not only our way of life, but our very existence.
In Brooklyn, the FBI is tracking Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a deep-cover agent who was posing as an American when he was actually a Soviet spy. The arrest, and impending trial, is front page news around the world. Rudolf Abel was the most reviled man in America.
James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an insurance lawyer. He handles litigation on behalf of insurance companies and their insureds. He is a master of negotiation. By the time that Rudolf Abel is captured it has been many years since he has practiced criminal law. And that’s exactly why he was selected to represent Abel. Donovan refuses to roll over and play dead, but defends Abel vigorously, all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
On the other side of the world, Air Force Pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is being trained to fly a U2, a top-secret spy plane that can fly at 70,000 feet while taking high-resolution photographs of action on the ground. Powers is shot down on his first flight over the Soviet Union and is quickly captured.
Donovan is recruited by the CIA to broker an exchange between the United State and the Soviet Union: Abel for Powers. Donovan is selected so that the U.S. government won’t be seen cooperating in such a deal with the Evil Empire that was the Soviet Union. The only catch is that the exchange must take place in East Berlin, just after the construction of the Berlin Wall.
“Bridge of Spies” is a serious, old-school Cold-War drama. It’s not light and easy like “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” It’s weighty with dramatic tension. The ideals behind the movie aren’t just for entertainment, they have grave and lasting meaning, especially in 1957 when the Cold War was at its most dangerous and every American was scared of nuclear war or an invasion.
One thing that “Bridge of Spies” does with great success is recreate America and East Berlin of the late 1950s. Not only are the characters on the screen crossing into East Berlin to engage in espionage, you will feel like you are right there with Donovan as he steps out of the train and of his comfort zone into East Berlin to do what he believes to be right.
“Bridge of Spies” is almost two movies in one. The first half of the film (movie #1) is all about the arrest, trial, and imprisonment of Rudolf Abel and what type of a defense a foreign agent is entitled to in our justice system. The second half of the film (movie #2) is about Donovan’s trip to East Berlin to make the prisoner exchange. Both halves are good in their own right, but the scenes in East Berlin provide the final, more entertaining chapter of the movie.
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks always make great movies when they operate as a team, and “Bridge of Spies” continues that tradition. The movie chronicles a precarious time for our country. As a country we made it through those strained and stressed years thanks to men and women like James Donovan. “Bridge of Spies” is a fitting tribute to an American hero.
Grade: A
Rated: PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.