The latest collaboration from celebrated director Steven Spielberg and veteran A-list actor Tom Hanks is the Cold War melodrama ‘Bridge of Spies,’ which recounts the historical events surrounding the Francis Gary Powers-for-Rudolf Abel spy swap across the Iron Curtain in 1962. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the infamous U-2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union while on a top secret reconnaissance mission for the CIA in 1960, but the behind-the-scenes efforts that brought him back remain a relatively unknown footnote in our nation's history.
Although ‘Bridge of Spies’ isn’t the first Hollywood treatment of what is commonly known as the “U-2 Incident” (that honor belongs to a 1976 TV movie starring “Six Million Dollar Man” Lee Majors, believe it or not), Spielberg nonetheless crafted a riveting and tightly paced thriller on a subject as unexciting as a prisoner exchange. He managed to pull it off by providing unexpected depth and character to the key players of this affair, in particular James B. Donovan (Hanks) and Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance in a remarkable performance), the soft-spoken Russian spy arrested by the FBI for espionage in 1957. From the movie's opening scene in which Abel displayed his well-honed spycraft evading J. Edgar Hoover’s finest with consummate ease, ‘Bridge of Spies’ pulls the viewer into its intricately set-up cloak-and-dagger world and never lets go.
More than just a spy movie, BoS also provides us with a valuable history lesson and a glimpse into the politics and fears of the pre-Cuban Missile Crisis Cold War era. As the legal counsel assigned to defend Abel for the sake of formal due process under the law, Hanks’ Donovan is an honorable and wise man doing a thankless job, not to mention prescient in his prediction that Abel is much more valuable alive as a potential future bargaining chip (not surprisingly, his specialty is insurance law). If you have an interest in this period of our nation's history or simply want to see the work of a master director, BoS should not be missed.