DreamWorks’s BRIDGE OF SPIES is a spy thriller, rated PG-13, inspired by true events. Continue reading for more details in our full spoiler-free BRIDGE OF SPIES review, and click here for Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and the rest of the cast’s thoughts on the story and creation of the film.
In DreamWorks’s BRIDGE OF SPIES, director Steven Spielberg takes us through the story of James B. Donovan’s involvement in the case of Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy during the Cold War. James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) was an insurance lawyer, but he was chosen to represent Abel to ensure Abel had a “capable advocate” during his trial. Donovan’s representation of Abel takes him further and farther than anyone anticipates, except, perhaps, for his family. Donovan is not only an excellent lawyer, but an ethical man of honor and his zealous defense of Abel causes consternation among his family and the general public and even those who assigned the case to him. Rather than kowtowing to a government that refuses to acknowledge him as their representative, Donovan acts as the independent agent he is, demanding what’s right, rather than what’s expected. He stands for what he believes.
BRIDGE OF SPIES follows historically the event, starting with Abel and Donovan, then incorporating Francis Gary Powers, an American spy, (played by Austin Stowell) imprisoned after being shot down over the USSR, and Frederick Pryor (an American student in Berlin, played by Will Rogers, who is captured by East Germany as the Berlin Wall is constructed) as their stories become enmeshed. The movie cuts back and forth between them masterfully, almost seamlessly, so it feels as if the three distinct stories are happening at one time on the screen. The historical elements, including the building of the Berlin Wall and the demands of new governments for recognition, are well constructed, bringing us back to a time of fear and xenophobia that is, unfortunately, all too familiar these days. There is only one cringe-worthy device that feels forced, but it’s reasonably well done and I say we should give Spielberg that one.
BRIDGE OF SPIES is inspired by historical events and liberties are taken with the facts, but it seems to be mostly true to life, as far as Donovan’s story goes. The story of Powers’ heroism is exaggerated, but that’s to be expected in a story about American heroes. Donovan’s intellectualism and ethics are inspiring and everyone watching will learn a little (or a lot) more about this very special moment in American history.
The cast of BRIDGE OF SPIES are excellent. Can anyone say too much about Tom Hanks? He seems to slip into every role as easily as slipping on a favorite sweater. Mark Rylance as Abel also feels just right. He is stalwart and stoic and has one of the best lines in the movie (you’ll have to watch it to find out what it is and, you’ll know when you hear it). One of the highlights of the movie, for me, was seeing Amy Ryan as Mary Donovan, James B. Donovan’s wife. She brings strength and fortitude to the role, with just the right amount of tenderness.
BRIDGE OF SPIES brings the Cold War to life again with all of the fear and suspicion, the heroics and grandstanding, and, in the person of James B. Donovan, those who stood for America and its ideals regardless of how others were responding. There is little gore and only minimal violence, but the story and the themes may be too advanced for children under 13. Everyone over the age of 13 should see BRIDGE OF SPIES, as much for what it reveals as for how the revelations are made.