Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg directed and co-produced this 2015 movie starring Tom Hanks. I did not expect to be engrossed in a story about the Cold War so I wasn’t too anxious about missing it at the cinema though I wished I had watch it then, if only because of Hanks.

Inspired by true events, the story began in 1957, at  the height of the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union fear each other’s nuclear capabilities and intentions. Both sides deploy spies – and hunt for them.

The movie opens in Brooklyn, where a lone man is painting a self-portrait when the phone rings. He picks it up, listens wordlessly and leaves home. He takes the subway but is closely followed. He goes to the waterfront to paint the scenery but pickes up a gadget (a coin) hidden on the underside of a bench. He then goes home to cut open the coin and unfolds a tiny piece of paper which he reads through a magnifying glass. All this is mysterious and intriguing and portends an exciting story ahead.

Not unexpectedly, this man is arrested by FBI agents who believe he’s engaged in espionage. James “Jim” Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer who has not done criminal law in years, is appointed the defense counsel. It is put to him that this is a patriotic duty, and he can’t refuse the assignment. And everyone deserves a defence.

The man arrested, known as “Colonel” Abel (Mark Rylance), is charged with conspiracy to transmit US defense and atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Jim visits Abel in custody and Abel asks for pen/pencil and paper so he can paint, but is given a radio so  he can listen to music, particularly those by the great Shostakovich (Concerto No 2 for Piano and Orchestra. Op 102).

Abel is found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison but Jim thinks he has grounds for appeal, though many are already shocked that Abel isn’t sentenced to death. While watching a re-run of 77 Sunset Strip, Peggy (Jillian Lebling), Jim’s eldest daughter, is suddenly shocked by shots fired through the windows by protesters while the rest of the family (mother Mary {Amy Ryan}, brother Roger {Noah Schnapp} and sister Carol {Eve Hewson} and Jim himself) take cover.

At the same time, a First Lieutanent of the US Air Force, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) and his mates are being briefed by the CIA at an air hangar in Pakistan for a secret mission to collect information and intelligence from the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, Powers is shot at and sent to 10 years in confinement.

Jim argues that the Cold War is a battle between two competing countries with conflicting views of the world and that Abel is a foe in that battle but is a good soldier who refuses to be a coward and take the easy way out.

Both Abel and Powers have a headful of classified information, and if a negotiation takes place for an exchange is successful, then there might be a happy ending for everyone. Jim is to be the negotiator, but he is supposed to keep it confidential and not disclose his mission even to his family. So he tells them that he is going to Scotland for a salmon fishing trip. Mary suspects it is not so, but she doesn’t press him, only wanting something good to come out of it.

Meanwhile, a 25-year-old American Economics student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) is captured by the East Germans while trying to bring his girfriend to the West as the Wall is coming up.

Jim comes up with the idea of exchanging one (Abel) for two (Powers & Pryor). There are many who do not want this exchange to take place…

The exchange is to take place on a very quiet Saturday morning at 5.30am on The Glienicke Bridge. Things become confusing: Abel and Powers are to be there, but Pryors will be released at the US Checkpoint Charlie. It is a nail-biting and nerve-wrecking moment before the exchange takes place and the stirring music increases the tension…

Credit must be given to Thomas Walters, who is in charge of the music for this movie. There are also Jazz songs such as Nancy (With The Laughing Face) by Jimmy Van Heusen and Phil Silvers, My Romance (by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rogers) and Unforgettable (by Irving Gordon) in addition to others.

Credits are also due to the entire crew, especially those in the departments of photigraphy/cinematography, editing, special and visual effects.


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