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Movie Monday: Bridge of Spies

Monday, October 31, 2016 15:26
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We've been on a movie streak lately! After months without seeing a movie, we've seen 3 of them in the past two weeks. We enjoyed The Girl on the Train in the theater last week and Bridge of Spies on DVD here at home.

Tom Hanks (one of our favorite actors) stars in Bridge of Spies as James Donovan, but Donovan is no spy. He's a lawyer working for a NY-based law firm in insurance law in 1957 when the partners asked him to act as defense lawyer for Rudolph Abel, played by Mark Rylance, who has recently been arrested as a Soviet spy. Everyone is certain Abel is guilty, but they want to make a good show of a “fair trial” so there is nothing that can be appealed later. In defending Abel, Donovan comes to respect the quiet, artistic man who says nothing to defend himself or to provide any information to the authorities. Donovan makes a good effort, but Abel is quickly found guilty.

Meanwhile, a young military man, Francis Gary Powers, played by Austin Stowell, is covertly tapped by the CIA to run top-secret flying missions over the USSR to gather information with high-powered cameras.  Powers is shot down by the Soviets and held prisoner.

A prisoner exchange is planned in 1962 – Abel for Powers – and they ask Donovan to negotiate the exchange, despite absolutely no experience, because of the honest, committed way he handled the court case and his cordial relationship with Abel. The government sends Donovan, woefully unprepared, to Berlin. He goes back and forth between East and West Berlin (no small feat at the time), talking to Soviets at their embassy, and doing his best to negotiate an exchange. Of course, he runs into all kinds of unforeseen problems, not the least of is just getting back to the West after visiting East Berlin.

This is not your typical action-packed spy movie but a thoughtful and mildly suspenseful look behind the scenes of a real-life historical event (the real James B. Donovan). This glimpse into the Cold War  is fascinating, and Tom Hanks is, as always, wonderful in his role as the sincere, determined Donovan. Mark Rylance is also excellent as Abel, showing a glimpse of a regular guy who happens to be a spy – no James Bond here. Alan Alda plays a small role, and Amy Ryan (one of our favorites from The Office and The Wire) is great as Donovan's frightened wife. My husband and I both enjoyed the movie very much and found plenty to talk about afterward.

Note: Another fascinating aspect to the movie was the scenes in Berlin. I just recently read – and was engrossed by – a middle-grade novel about the Berlin Wall, A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen. It's about a family who is separated when the wall goes up and provides details of what life was like in East Berlin after the wall. It's a chilling, powerful novel – highly recommended for older kids, teens, and adults, too!

Bridge of Spies is currently available for streaming on Amazon for $14.99 (link below) or on DVD (Netflix has the DVD and we rented ours at Redbox for $1.50).

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