Bridge of Spies movie review: the lawyer who went out in the Cold War

MaryAnn’s quick take: Presents American hypocrisy in defense of America with the snorting derision it warrants, while also being a gripping and intense Cold War thriller.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Spielberg and Hanks
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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Don’t go Boy Scout on me.” “Don’t go bleeding-heart on me.” These are the things that people say to Tom Hanks as Jimmy Stewart as lawyer James Donovan in Steven Spielberg’s based-on-fact Bridge of Spies. They say these things because Donovan is insisting upon mounting an actual legal defense when he is asked to represent an accused Soviet spy in Cold War America, instead of participating in the show trial everyone else — including the judge — is putting on.

America throwing out American ideals as soon as they become inconvenient and yet somehow still twisted into a defense of The American Way may be the most American of attitudes, and Bridge treats that hypocrisy with exactly the sort of snorting derision it warrants; in fact, this is a great companion piece to Trumbo, set at the same time, the late 1950s and early 1960s.

But Bridge has only gotten started: a few years after Donovan has lost his case and seen his client, Rudolf Abel, sent to prison, he is called upon again — precisely because he is such a goody-two-shoes bleeding-heart Boy Scout who can be relied upon to be honest and fair — to broker a prisoner exchange after the Soviets capture CIA-employed spy pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell: Whiplash). It all makes for a different kind of Cold War thriller — the legal procedural! — that is gripping from start to finish, from a mugging on the streets of desperate East Berlin to the intense sequence in which Powers’s U2 is shot down to Donovan’s first glimpse of the newly constructed Berlin Wall.

Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks) once again effortlessly exudes integrity and nice-guy defiance; the scene in which he argues in front of the Supreme Court to save Abel from execution is the most overt likening of him to Jimmy Stewart ever — this is Hanks’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment — and it’s very satisfying. But legendary British stage actor Mark Rylance (Anonymous) steals the film as Abel, speaking volumes while barely saying a word.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Bridge of Spies for its representation of girls and women.

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