This evening was movie night, as I watched the 4th of 8 Best Picture Nominated Films. I once again hoped to watched Brooklyn, holding Bridge of Spies in reserve as my second choice. I came home with the latter.
Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell and Will Rogers. This historical drama, based on true events, was directed by Steven Spielberg. The movie is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 22 minutes.
Bridge of Spies was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Writing – Original Screenplay, Best Musical Score and in a couple of technical categories. Mark Rylance won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, a Russian man, Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is arrested and charged as a Soviet spy. In a highly publicized show of receiving a fair trial, Abel is represented in court by Brooklyn attorney Jim Donovan (Hanks). Although the trial goes as expected, with Abel found guilty on all counts, Donovan takes his responsibility very seriously, desiring that his client truly receive a fair trial.
Donovan’s honesty, and growing respect and compassion for Abel, draws judgment and anger from the across the United States. Even his senior law firm partner Watters (Alda) and his wife Mary (Ryan) don’t understand or support Jim’s desire to see Abel treated fairly.
Although Donovan can’t prevent a guilty verdict, he does convince the judge to sentence his client to prison rather than give him the death penalty. Jim feels that Abel may serve a future purpose, should the need arise to exchange prisoners of war.
And indeed, the need arises. For while Russians are spying in the US, Americans are doing the same over Russia. U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is shot down while on a covert mission and captured. The United States Government asks Jim Donovan to act as a non-government representative to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers.
Donovan finds himself in Berlin, as the dividing wall is being built, negotiating with the Russians for the release of Powers, and with the newly formed East Germany government for the release of American college student Frederic Pryor (Rogers). The CIA doesn’t care about obtaining Pryor at that time, only Powers, as he knows critical information. But Donovan refuses to make the exchange unless both Americans are released.
The lives of three men and the relationships between three countries all rest on the negotiating abilities of one very honest, and honorable, man. If he is successful, the exchange of Abel for Powers will take place across the Glienicke Bridge, more commonly referred to as the Bridge of Spies.
This was a very good movie. I confess that I tend to lean toward James Bond type movies, when watching films with the Cold War as the subject, full of action and cool gadgets and humor. I wasn’t excited about this Best Picture Nominated movie at all. I’m grateful for my tradition of watching all of the films. I would miss great stories and performances otherwise.
Tom Hanks was superb in the role of the conscientious attorney, who was ruled by his heart and his sense of honor, rather than being swayed by popular public opinion. I enjoy movies based on true events. Jim Donovan later successfully negotiated on behalf of thousands of captive men, women and children.
It was Rylance’s performance as Abel that was most riveting. He well deserved his Oscar. Artistic, thoughtful, an honorable man himself, Abel did what he was supposed to do, and was willing to accept the consequences. He maintained a peaceful demeanor, never expressing fear or worry. I smiled every time Jim asked him, “Don’t you ever worry?” and Abel replied calmly, “Would it help?” The friendship that grew between the two men, from radically different worlds, was heart warming. Abel affectionately called Donovan “the standing man” in his Russian language, recognizing the values that he stood for.
I loved the messages contained within Bridge of Spies. The Cold War is over. The Berlin Wall has come down. And yet people are still divided and so ready to judge the differences they perceive in each other. I choose to have compassion. I want to be honest, and honorable, in my dealings with all people…those who are similar to me, and those who are very different. I willingly offer up any prejudices held captive within me, in exchange for the freedom to love and care deeply for others.
Being me, fully, I can let others be who they are, fully. We can build a bridge, step by step, toward each other…and meet there, in the middle.