Before I give my opinion on Bridge of Spies can I just ask that you don’t get put off by the title.
Yes it is a political thriller and it is based upon true events that took place during the ‘Cold War’ period in the late 50’s early 60’s.

The script was penned by the Coen Brothers along with British writer Matt Charman and the directing is Steven Spielberg at his best. But the film really belongs to Tom Hanks who is just outstanding. So the writing, direction and acting in the film absolutely top notch!.

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Rylance (middle) and Hanks

This was a time when the world’s two biggest super powers the USA and the Soviet Union kept the peace by the use of the threat of the Atomic bomb to keep a stalemate situation between them and the rest of the planet.

However, with no trust from either nation the Americans deployed spies backed by the CIA to infiltrate the Soviets, while the Russians had their own spy network with KGB agents planted in the US to find out state secrets.

The film starts in 1957, Brooklyn, New York when we see a middle aged artist Rudolf Abel (Award winning British stage actor Mark Rylance) opening a fake quarter containing hidden secret intelligence information that he retrieve from a drop point in the park.

Suddenly his bedsit is raided by FBI agents and Abel is arrested as a spy and ‘Enemy of the State’ and faces the possibility of the death sentence. Abel goes on trial and as far as the US government are concerned there is only one possible outcome. However, to show the American public that this Russian spy will get a fair trial according to the US constitution and the Supreme Court they hire insurance lawyer James B Donovan (Tom Hanks) previously a well-respected attorney to defend the Soviet spy.

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Donovan, trouble in East Berlin

Donovan agrees to assist the US Government (But he didn’t really have much choice) but instead of just going through the motions, the very moral Donovan convinces the judge to reduce the death sentence to 30 years imprisonment. His main argument was that one of their own people could end up in a similar situation as a captive of the KGB and Abel would be a good bargaining chip. Unfortunately Donovan’s actions do not adhere him to the American public.

It’s not long until the inevitable happens and in 1962 a US Pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) taking aerial photographs from a U-2 spy plane is shot out of the sky by Soviet jet fighters and is taken prisoner.

Donavan is called on once again but this time to negotiate Powers release by means of a swap of spies in East Berlin with the understanding that if anything goes wrong the CIA, FBI and US Government will deny that he was working on their behalf. So he is out on his own.

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US Pilot Captain Powers
Undeterred by the danger that lies ahead Donovan has the nerve to not only negotiate the release of the pilot Powers but also insists on a two for one swop by requesting that the Soviets also release a wrongly imprisoned American student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) for their man Rudolf Abel.

What follows is a masterclass in acting. This is very much Hanks movie who drives the narrative along and he is always very good at making the audience side with him usually straight from his first scene in whatever film he appears in.

Hanks looks similar to his FBI character Carl Hanratty from ‘Catch Me If You Can’ (2002), also directed by Mr Spielberg, wearing his trilby, black rimmed glasses and having a tenacious attitude. Mixed with a dash of his Walt Disney persuasiveness from ‘Saving Mr Banks’ (2013).

The understated performance from Mark Rylance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel gives Hanks a run for his money. Rylance plays Able with a laid-back and unflustered manner. When Donovan explains to Able that he could face the electric chair, Able just nods “OK” and Donavan exclaims “Aren’t you worried?” and Able replies “Would it help?” which is a running gag in the film.

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Donovan in negotiation

In fact for a film that often keeps you on the edge of your seat there are quite a few comical moments.

The film is also a good reminder to younger audiences just how bad things were between the two nations with a very real possibility of the button being pressed at any moment creating a Nuclear Holocaust. There is a scene showing a terrified classroom of children watching a government instructional film of how to survive nuclear fall-out.

We also see the construction of the Berlin Wall dividing the country and keeping the inhabitants from escaping to the west with the use of machine gun posts.

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I wasn’t expecting a great deal from this film but I was pleasantly surprised. Then after all it is Tom Hanks who very rarely makes a dud Movie!

Foker On Film rating for ‘Bridge of Spies’

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UK Cinema release date: Thursday November 26

Certificate 12A

Running time 2hrs 20mins