In the 1950s, the Cold War is in full swing. It wasn’t a war of battling with armed forces. It was of fear. Fear of a nuclear war between American and the Soviet Union. Schools around America did bomb drills after watching an educational video called Duck & Cover. In case of an atomic bomb, the school children must get under their desks for safety when a bright flash appears. This happens in one of the early scenes in Steven Spielberg’s latest, Bridge of Spies, which is not just about the fear of nuclear war. It’s about the espionage during these cold times.
The movie opens up with a remarkable 10-minute sequence (with very little dialogue) involving KGB agent Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) finding a secret message at a Brooklyn park bench while painting a picture of the bridge. After he settles in his apartment, the FBI arrests him for being a Soviet spy.
Meanwhile, James Donavon (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer living with his loving wife Mary (Amy Ryan) and three children, is assigned to defend Abel in court by his boss Thomas Watters (Alan Alda). As Lt. Francis Gray Powers (Austin Stowell) and graduate student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) get detained, Donavon must travel to East Berlin (breathtaking cinematography by Janusz Kaminski) to exchange them for Abel.
Spielberg and Tom Hanks are two of the best people working in Hollywood today. They collaborated with each other with Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me if You Can, The Terminal, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific. They return to deliver yet another home run. Collaborating with screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen, Spielberg makes an exceptionally old-fashioned Cold War thriller that ranks among some of his best work.
With Donavon, performed brilliantly by Hanks, going on his mission to negotiate Abel builds tension through Thomas Newman’s astounding score and the brilliant dialogue (be prepared for a lot of it) as opposed to the overblown action scenes as everyone is used to seeing in movies nowadays. We all heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”. That explains why Donavon is such a likable hero; bringing “justice for all” through his charm, sarcastic sense of humor, and straight-up enthusiasm with his bond with Abel. The two-and-a-half hours go by like a breeze. One of the year’s best.