MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance.
It is 1957 and the United States is involved in an ongoing Cold War with the Soviet Union. Both countries are concerned about the possibilities for a nuclear war. The Soviets have been the first to enter the space race with the successful launching of the Sputnik satellite. America is on the lookout for spies at home while planning to mount air surveillance missions over Russia.
Rudolph Abel (Rylance) is a mild-mannered artist living in Brooklyn who is arrested by the FBI under suspicion of being a Soviet agent, engaged in the transfer of classified material. Since every person under criminal arrest is required to have representation James Donovan (Hanks), a skilled insurance lawyer, is asked to provide legal services. It has been a while since Donovan has handled a criminal case but he accepts his country’s request for aid. Much to the surprise of his immediate supervisor (Alan Alda), Donovan prepares a defense for his client, rather than simply going through the motions of justice.
Abel is eventually imprisoned but, in 1962, the situation overseas changes in dramatic fashion and there is an opportunity to negotiate a possible trade with the Soviet Union between Abel and Gary Powers, a U.S. espionage pilot shot down over Russia.
James Donovan is the go-to guy for this mission, but further complications ensue after he travels to East Berlin to begin his trade efforts. He will have to keep his wits about him as he attempts to diplomatically bring a time to tension to a peaceful resolution. And there may be an opportunity to free another imprisoned American in the bargain.
Bridge of Spies is not only an entertaining reenactment of a particular time in history (as Spielberg does so well in his big scale historical dramas Lincoln and Munich), but the story of a man of principles in conversation with people who hold different values and objectives. Negotiation means finding the middle ground of decency and compromise that can bring favorable results for both sides.
Tom Hanks has always been a dependable actor portraying likable heroes, but the real standout performance is Mark Rylance as Abel, who draws forth compassion and empathy through a nuanced characterization that relies often on body language rather than dialogue.
Although, speaking of dialogue, this film is filled with smart and witty exchanges that reminded me of the films of Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Visually, the movie is a marvel of color and tone and there is always something interesting to view on screen.
In our current age of terrorism and partisan grandstanding, Bridge of Spies suggests that there is a better way for countries to work out their problems. I found this film to be incredibly inspirational and thought-provoking, one of the real gems of this film year.
Five halos: The story of a decent man doing the right thing.
Two pitchforks: Brief strong language; one scene of intense interrogation.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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