In the latest Steven Spielberg-directed thriller, Tom Hanks stars as James Donovan, an insurance lawyer who finds himself in Russia in the middle of a spy swap. Based on the 1957 Cold War friction revolving around Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), the film ratchets up in intensity and emotion as it races toward the thrilling finish.
While Donovan is staunchly American and accepts a losing proposition as Abel’s lawyer, it’s the heart with which he pursues justice for all that makes Donovan – and the film – really soar. While the American government cares about retrieving Powers, a downed American airman, Donovan discovers that another American, college student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), is also being held. Determined to do his job and bring both Americans home, Donovan’s dogged persistence is heroic in the face of great danger.
One of the most intense scenes – and my favorite – is when Hanks’ Donovan faces down a gang of toughs who are waiting for him in Moscow. While the incredible threat of the war between the Soviets and Americans wages, and Donovan wades through duplicitous political machinations on both sides, it’s his appreciation for every human life that humanizes what was a global problem when the two superpowers clashed.
Too often, when we find ourselves facing danger, we default to caring about ourselves; when the stakes are higher, we sometimes lose sight of our own humanity and regular value systems. Donovan proves to be of a different breed (or time), focusing on being who he is supposed to be even when others attack him for defending Abel in the American courts or challenge his judgments in Russia.
Donovan isn’t terribly ‘tricky,’ and neither is the movie. It’s a straight forward moral tale – folded inside some of the most duplicitous of times. Fans will appreciate learning more about Donovan, as well as the ways that Spielberg’s team worked to build Powers’ U-2 plane, set up the final act at the Glienicke Bridge, and presented the Berlin Wall, as this is in fact a true story. There’s an old school vibe to the film that Spielberg tapped into (including his own recollections of the times), and yet, it’s also timeless.
In a world where more and more we are pushed to see our differences from others rather than our common bonds, Bridge of Spies encourages us to see the way that we are all alike. We all want the best for our families, safety for ourselves, and a community that embraces us – regardless of language or background. Bridge of Spies says that those are achievable, that peace is even possible, when we work together. Bridge of Spies allows us to that this is possible when we accept the challenge for all of us to be who we are supposed to be in all situations, regardless of the cost.