“Bridge of Spies” Spielberg & Hanks Bring To Life A Moment In History That Changed The World
“In the shadow of war, one man showed the world what we stand for.”
Every once in a while, a movie comes along about a true super hero where the hero doesn’t need a cape, or super powers or even CGI effects or fancy music with a score the moves the story along that you can walk out smiling knowing that in the battle of good vs. evil, the good guys will win the good fight. DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures’ Bridge of Spies is just that movie. A dramatic thriller set against the backdrop of a series of historic events, Bridge of Spies starsTom Hanks as real life insurance lawyer James Donovan. This true story brings to life an incident in history that we thought we all knew about but we really didn’t and begs the question-what if another lawyer had been assigned the case? How would the course of history have been changed?
Steven Spielberg is the master of bringing history to life as we’ve seen time and time again in such movies as the Civil War drama Lincoln, War Horse from World War I and his timeless masterpieces from World War II Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan and yes, even War of the Worlds but as good as he is at bringing these epics to the big screen, this director’s director is even better at handling a war where the battles are mostly out of sight In bringing this particular war to light, Spielberg does it with such marvelous restraint that it a story so well told that it will make you think long over the movie ends.
Gone are the special effects, and even a musical score that propels the plot for most of the film, Instead Spielberg has made the conscious decision to let the story actually be allowed to tell itself and in doing so you find yourself immediately drawn into this saga of this ordinary insurance lawyer, who found himself placed in an extraordinary situation. His convictions to do what was right quite possibly changed the course of history.
Tom Hanks stars as the American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot who was shot down over Russia at the height of the Cold War in this historical drama. Tom Hanks portrays Donovan, in a role that he does better than anyone else-playing the Everyman. Hanks shows, once again, that he is this generation’s Jimmy Stewart — an actor who can take an average-Joe role and instill in it dignity, humility, intelligence all with that subtle humor that he is known for.
It’s 1957, at the height of anti-Communist paranoia in the United States, when Americans expected to find a Russian hiding under their beds at night. When the FBI actually arrests a Soviet spy, KGB operative Willie Fisher, alias Rudolf Abel –played to sympathetic perfection by Mark Rylance to the point where you find yourself holding your breath and rooting for him in the end. Rylance plays Abel in such an understated way that you have that rare chance to delve into the character’s mind and while you may not agree with his actions, the actions are not the man- he is the grandfather you’d want to have Sunday dinner with. The more the story unfolds, the more it begs the question what if another lawyer had been handed the case?
It is clear from the start that James Donovan was a man that truly believed in American judicial system, and the right to every man, no matter who he is, the right to a fair trail under the law. While as good as Hanks is, some of the most memorable moments belong to Rylance, whose portrayal of Abel’s unflappability — when Donovan asks if he’s worried, Abel replies, “Would it help?” — exemplifies the tension lurking under the movie’s cool surface. His approach to life- “Still standing” will be a mantra that will resonate with theatergoers long after they leave the theater.
Donovan takes on the monumental task of defending Abel in the face of a biased judge (Dakin Matthews), the concerns of his wife, Mary (Amy Ryan), and notoriety in the New York papers. When he fails in getting Abel acquitted and in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court — but he does succeed in persuading the judge to spare Abel the death penalty, with the argument that the spy may be a bargaining chip if the Soviets ever catch one of our guys. Fast-forward and the Soviets do indeed catch and imprison Francis Gary Powers, the pilot of a U-2 spy plane shot down over their air space. Once again, Donovan is persuaded, this time by the CIA to negotiate a trade with the Soviets in East Germany — because he, as a private citizen, offers the U.S. government plausible deniability if things happen to not go as planned.
Spielberg uses the story to re-create a dark world of international brinksmanship where individuals become chess pieces in an uncertain game — and only a person such as Donovan, and an actor of Hank’s caliber, can remind all parties that these pawns are people.
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and with Bridge of Spies, the incredible story of an ordinary man placed in extraordinary circumstances, it is all the more compelling because it actually happened. Current events on the international front are reminiscent of the situation during the Cold War, and the issues which consumed the world at that time and which are so integral to this story, are still real and pertinent today. Navigating the unfamiliar waters of high-stakes international intrigue, James Donovan rose to the occasion with a modesty befitting the heroic acts, which he performs, becoming an unsung civilian hero, and in the process, the inspiration for an incredibly powerful story and film.
This weekend, go see DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures’ Bridge of Spies and see for yourself how one man’s convictions to do the right thing, can change the course of history.
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