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BRIDGE OF SPIES (director: Steven Spielberg; screenwriters: Matt Charman/Ethan Coen/Joel Coen; cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; editor: Michael Kahn; music: Thomas Newman ; cast:Tom Hanks (James B. Donovan), Mark Rylance (Rudolph Abel), Alan Alda (Thomas Watters Jr.), Scott Shepherd (Hoffman), Amy Ryan (Mary Donovan), Eve Hewson (Carol Donovan), Peter McRobbie (Allen Foster Dulles), Billy Magnussen (Doug Forrester), Austin Stowell (Francis Gary Powers), Domenick Lombardozzi (Agent Blasco), Michael Gaston (Agent Williams), Sebastian Koch (Wolfgang Vogel), Marko Caka (Reporter), Noah Schnapp (Roger Donovan), Dakin Matthews (Judge Byers), Ashlie Atkinson (Classroom Teacher), Mikhail Gorevoy (Ivan Schischkin, KGB chief), Will Rogers (Frederic Pryor); Runtime: 142; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Steven Spielberg/Marc Platt/ Kristie Macosko Krieger; DreamWorks Pictures; 2015)
“Top-notch feel-good conventional spy thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Steven Spielberg(“Lincoln”/”Saving Private Ryan”/”War Horse”) superbly helms this top-notch feel-good conventional spy thriller, that’s set at the height of the Cold War in 1957. It’s solidly written with polish by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers. They make their hero a ‘man of the people,’ who is a principled and able lawyer. It’s the kind of winning film Capra would make for Jimmy Stewart to point out the beauty of the American way.

The savvy family man Brooklyn insurance lawyer Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited by our government officials to make a pro-bono legal defense of the unpopular Brit born Russian spy Colonel Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance), who was arrested by the FBI on espionage charges. Jim’s back-slapper boss (Alan Alda) encourages him to accept because it will earn the company good marks in patriotism and possible future favors from the government. Jim eases his worried wife’s (Amy Ryan) doubts about him taking such an unpopular case by saying that “Everyone will hate me, but at least I’ll lose.” Through Jim’s efforts Abel, pictured as an amateur painter and a stoically heroic man, is spared the electric chair and instead he receives a 30-year jail sentence.

When a U-2 spy plane is shot down in 1960 on Russian turf, the U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is captured and jailed by the Soviets. Jim is recruited by the CIA to broker as a private citizen a prisoner exchange with the Soviets, whereby both governments are not visibly seen doing the negotiation. Jim enters East Berlin alone at a time the East raised the Berlin Wall so there would be no more escapes to the West.

In East Berlin, things get more complicated when on the day the wall goes up an American doctoral student in economics, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an innocent, is arrested in East Berlin and falsely charged as a spy. The justice seeking Jim wants both U.S. citizens freed, while his CIA handler (Scott Shepherd), off on the sidelines, says the CIA’s only concern is to get Powers out before he blabs about any secrets and could care less about the student.

It’s riveting how the cunning Jim must barter with his hypocritical CIA handlers, the sly Russian KGB chief (Mikhail Gorevoy) and a sneaky rep of the German Democratic Republic (Sebastian Koch) to in the end have all three parties swapped at either a border checkpoint in East Germany or at the snowy Glienicke Bridge.

The real-life history event is made into an absorbing, well-executed and acted film. The English actor Mark Rylance gets acting honors for his captivating performance. Tom Hanks also delivers a powerful performance. In addition, the film gets marvelous photography from the director’s usual cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and does a fine job re-creating that tense period in American history. But, as in all Spielberg films, there are sappy moments about youth crime caused by poverty. We see how the director doubles down in goo by unconvincingly dramatizing how Pryor was arrested by the East Berlin police and that East Berlin thugs steal our man’s expensive top coat. That theft compares to a bunch of juvenile delinquents up to no good climbing over backyard fences in a Brooklyn slum, that is witnessed by Hanks from his commuter train.

REVIEWED ON 10/18/2015 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”