In the midst of the Cold War an American lawyer named James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend America’s most-wanted soviet spy, the infamous Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance).
As if that wasn’t enough to ask of him, Donovan is also asked to help the CIA facilitate an exchange of Abel for Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). What follows threatens to disrupt the fragile balance between the Americans and Russians, with each side desperate for an excuse to attack the other.
The decency and moral courage that Donovan portrays is matched only by Abel’s dry humour. When Donovan asks Abel “Aren’t you worried?” he responds rather deadpan “Would it help?” It is this repartee that causes Donovan to accidently make Abel his friend. Politics aside he respects the spy’ commitment to Russia and his loyalty in the face of certain death. It’s what bonds the two together.
Donovan is resolute in his decision to provide Abel with a right and fair representation, to make sure that he is given the same legal rights that any American citizen would be given automatically. That is what will set them aside from the Russians.
As you can imagine this approach does not sit well with most Americans. They would rather see Abel in the electric chair than being given a fair trial. They feel that he lost the right to justice when he started working for the Soviets. But Donovan is as determined in his cause for justice as Abel is in not informing on Russia. The CIA may not be a fan of Donovan’s methods but he will not give up until Abel is home safe and he has completed his covert mission to retrieve Powers.
Steven Spielberg has created a magnificent dramatisation of this true-life story. The tense negotiations for the exchange of the spies in 1960s Berlin provides a vivid backdrop to this wonderfully Cold War thriller. It shows just how close the world was to the brink of nuclear war and how one man’s bravery saved us all. Bridge of Spies is clever, poignant and witty in equal measure.
By Ruth Walker