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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Bridge of Spies | Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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Bridge of Spies | Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Austin Stowell, Sebastian Koch, Will Rogers | Review


This is a title you can take literally.

As the Cold War seethes quietly between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the late 50’s and early 60’s, both countries are lousy with infiltrating spies.  Both have governmental operatives on the trail of those spies.  Once in a while someone gets caught.

This time it’s mild mannered, denture-wearing landscape artist Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) who is followed and eventually captured in his seedy New York apartment by CIA agents.  Before they take him away, he destroys an encrypted note stashed in a hollow nickel that he retrieved from under a park bench.  But he’s no spy.  Ask him and he’ll you that; the Soviet Union will back him up.  The skeptical U.S. government prepares to try him for espionage.

Abel must have the appearance of competent defense, so insurance attorney James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is urged to take the unpopular case by senior law firm partner Thomas Watters (Alan Alda).  Once a Nuremburg lawyer, the highly principled Donavan reluctantly agrees and finds himself appalled at the grossly unfair legal and civil rights violations Abel receives.  As the CIA asks him to breach attorney-client privilege, a judge admonishes him to act like (but certainly not expect that) the trial will be fair.  Donovan is successful in dodging the death penalty for Abel, but is reviled by the general public for it.

Donovan and Abel slowly build a mutual respect for one another.  Abel’s calm demeanor and wit appeals to Donovan’s sense of duty and honor.  Abel never gives up information and Donovan respects the man for his principles.  He can relate.
Sparing Abel’s life comes in handy, enabling a possible prisoner swap when spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down over the Soviet Union.   Donovan is approached yet again for the role of negotiator.  His mission: to trade Abel for Powers.  Off to East Berlin he goes (reluctantly) to find the elusive East German lawyer, Vogel (Sebastian Koch) who seems to hold the key to at least some of the obstacles.

Meanwhile, American graduate student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) is taken into custody for trying to cross the newly constructed Berlin Wall.  He must be a spy, declare the East Germans.  Donavan adds Pryor’s release to his mission despite CIA opposition.

Will Donavan successfully negotiate the release of two Americans for one Soviet prisoner?  Further complicating matters is that the Soviets have the pilot while the East Germans have the student and those two countries are at odds with each other.  Remember, this is a title you can take literally and the bridge’s name is Glienicke.  Even though it is based on a true story, there’ll be no spoilers here.

Director Steven Spielberg jumps from the Civil War (Lincoln) to the Cold War convincingly, with nostalgic period sets and costumes, duck and cover drills, filled bathtubs, and nuclear paranoia.  Based on the 2010 non-fiction book Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War by Giles Whittell, screenwriters Matt Charman (Suite Française) and Joel and Ethan Coen (Unbroken, True Grit) fashion the words that transform a series of meetings in drab rooms into a captivating ordeal.

The Spielberg touch is apparent but not invasive. Donovan and Abel’s relationship, violence at the wall, and two wordless scenes on public transportation convey silent but powerful messages within a film full of grim surroundings and humorless bureaucrats.

Hanks and Rylance resonate as two honorable men on opposite sides of a global threat, both exuding a tired but steadfast wisdom that somehow narrows the chasm between them.

That’s what bridges do.

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