'Bridge of Spies' brings the Cold War to life
In the early days of the Cold War, tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. rose to a fevered pitch as anti-Communist paranoia spread across the United States. It’s little wonder the arrest of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in Brooklyn in 1957 saw many people clamoring for his execution with few lawyers willing to take his case.
So starts DreamWorks and Fox 2000 Pictures’ new film Bridge of Spies. Set against a backdrop of real events, this Cold War dramatic thriller, penned by Joel and Ethan Coen, is the story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), former U.S. Navy officer, General Counsel for the Office of Strategic Services during WWII, and prosecutor of Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials. Bridge of Spies starts well after the war, with Abel’s (Mark Rylance) arrest. Donovan, whose anti-Communist and pro-American credentials are impeccable, was living in Brooklyn with his family at the time, working as an insurance lawyer.
“He was a prosecutor of the Nuremberg War Crimes,” Hanks said of Donovan. “That means he wasn’t the type of soldier that went off and wanted to kill as many Nazis as possible; he was a guy who wanted to nail as many Nazis as possible, using the letter of the law.”
Abel is questioned by the FBI but refuses to cooperate, declining their offer to turn on his country, and is detained in federal prison pending trial. Donovan is highly regarded within the legal community for his profound skills as a negotiator, but has little experience with allegations of this nature and magnitude and isn’t eager to get involved. Advocating such a deeply unpopular defense would make him a public figure and subject his family to scrutiny, disdain, and potential danger.
“It was simply a piece of history that was so compelling,” Spielberg said. “Personally for me, to know that something like this, a man who stood on his principles and defied everybody hating him and his family for what he thought he needed to do —equal protection under the law, even for an alien in this country, even for a Soviet accused spy. That was, to me, a righteous reason to tell the story.”
Donovan eventually agrees to represent Abel, as he is committed to the principles of justice and the protection of basic human rights and wants to ensure Abel receives a fair trial, regardless of his citizenship. As he prepares his defense strategy, a bond begins to develop between the two men, one built on mutual respect and understanding. Donovan admires Abel’s strength and loyalty and mounts an impassioned plea, arguing that his actions were that of a good soldier following instructions on his country’s behalf, but to no avail.
“The real Donovan, when he was defending Abel, was interviewed at the courthouse,” Hanks recalled,” and said the reason why he took the case, and the reason why he carried it all the way to the Supreme Court: ‘You can’t accuse this man of treason. He’s not a traitor. He’s actually a patriot to his cause. Only an American can be a traitor, only an American can commit treason against their own country. He’s [Abel] just a man doing his job, in the same way we have men doing their jobs over here.’ As soon as you start torturing the people we have, you give the other side permission and cause to do the same exact thing. That’s not what America stands for — as soon as you start executing anybody you think has gone against your country, you’re not that far removed from the KGB and the Stasi. That’s not what America was about. This is what Donovan took with him from the get-go.”
Sometime later, an American U-2 spy plane is shot down over Soviet airspace while on a reconnaissance mission. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell), is convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison in the U.S.S.R. The CIA, denying any knowledge of the mission, fears Powers may be coerced into revealing classified information. Having witnessed Donovan’s skills in the courtroom, CIA operative Hoffman (Scott Shepherd) secretly reaches out to recruit him for a national security mission of great importance. Fueled by a love for his country, unwavering belief in his convictions and a tremendous amount of courage, Donovan is soon on a plane to Berlin to negotiate a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
“I like making pictures about people who are – who have a personal mission in life, or at least in the story, the life in the story,” said director Steven Spielberg. “Who start out in a certain, with certain low expectations, and then overachieve our highest expectations for them. That’s the kind of character arc I love dabbling in as a director, as a filmmaker.”
Through Donovan’s story, we get a chilling view of the events which would dominate much of the rest of the 20th century. Interactions with the German Democratic Republic (GDR — East Germany), the Stasi (East German Secret Police), and how East German-Russian relations would come to divide the people of Germany and the entire world. Spielberg recreates everything in painstaking detail, from The U.S. Air Force uniforms of the the era and the U-2 shootdown at 70,000 feet to 1962 Berlin and the brutality of the Berlin Wall.
“We shot that on the border of Poland and Germany, in a town called Breslau. [The Polish name is] Wroclaw,” Spielbeg recalled. “And there’s still bullet holes in all the buildings from World War II there, they never repaired it. So we went to the area closest to the east of Berlin, that looked just like East Berlin, and we actually built that wall.”
Spielberg’s fascination with the Cold War dates back to childhood, when he remembers his father and grandfather and their stories of the deep- seeded feelings of animosity and distrust which existed between the U.S. and Russia at the time.
“It was a very dangerous time to be in the headlines for standing up for a spy,” Spielberg added, “Because as a kid growing up, I felt a tremendous sense of fear of the Atomic bomb and Soviet Russia.”
Just as Spielberg created the cold, blue, slightly desaturated look that would come to define World War II movies and shows in years to come, he may have just done the same for the Postwar years in Bridge of Spies. He creates a bright, dreamy world with an almost comic-book like use of color. The colors are vivid in the areas which overshadow the characters, such as the green Stasi uniforms of the GDR and red Soviet flags. Everywhere in the film, the lights are bright and the shadows are dark, creating a stark contrast on par with the contrast of East vs. West.
The film isn’t all drama. There are great humorous moments peppered throughout the film with Hanks’ trademark dry wit. Every time Hanks is on screen with someone else, the interplay takes the film to another level. Bridge of Spies is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Outstanding performances by Amy Ryan (Birdman, Gone Baby Gone) as Donovan’s wife Mary, and Alan Alda (M*A*S*H, The Aviator) as his boss Thomas Watters round out an excellent cast who deliver the quality we’ve come to expect from such an elite group every minute they’re on screen. The cast, a script written English dramatist Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers, with Spielberg’s masterful direction complete the essential elements for a truly engaging, entertaining film.
That time when the USS Missouri gave full honors to a kamikaze pilot
Kamikaze pilots commonly struck fear in the hearts of allied troops with their choreographed nose-dives right into U.S. ships during World War II.
This is how the Israelis planned to kill Saddam Hussein
Saddam wasn't crazy for using all those body doubles. People were really trying to kill him. Israel never forgot his Gulf War Scud missile attacks.
The 13 funniest memes for the week of Nov. 17
Justice League comes out this weekend but you don't care. You've been waiting for your Justice League enlistment to end for years. These memes are for you.
This is what you need to know about Mark Esper, the new Army Secretary
The new Army Secretary is a retired officer whose service includes active duty in the Gulf War, as well as time in the reserves and the National Guard.
The Army tested its first damage sensors on these helicopters
For the first time ever, a team of researchers successfully developed and tested networked acoustic emission sensors that can detect airframe damage.
The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator
The 58 year-old US citizen who attempted to cross the border between North and South Korea wanted to help Pyongyang and Washington negotiate.
This is how the 'largest defense bill in history' pushes troops to stay in uniform
The House passed a nearly $700 billion bipartisan defense bill on Nov. 14, boosting what some politicians have called a depleted US military.
6 reasons why Marines hate on the Air Force
The military community houses a massive rivalry, and we hate on each other for various reasons, but at the end of the day — we're still on the same side.
Navy recruits now test their fitness before shipping out
On Nov. 15, the service announced it is creating an initial fitness test for prospective sailors on their first day of boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill.