Bridge of Spies

The latest Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks collaboration stars Hanks as James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer who, in 1957, was tasked by his firm, and the US government, to defend captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (a wonderfully laconic Mark Rylance), even though Abel had already been found guilty in the court of popular opinion.

Although I don't recall the film explicitly specifying this detail, five years passed before Donovan would cross paths with Abel again, this time while negotiating a prisoner exchange with the USSR and East Germany. And that's what the bulk of Bridge of Spies concerns.

Donovan is the sort of plainspoken American everyman hero that Spielberg and Hanks are often drawn to, and they deliver an essentially flawless drama tinged with Cold War thrills. Yet Bridge of Spies doesn't quite knock it out of the park. I'll blame the relative insignificance of the Abel affair itself. A big story in its day, it's not something I ever heard about in my own lifetime, which is a testament to its triviality. With Cold War memories fading by the year, there's a predictability – perhaps an inevitability – in Bridge of Spies' plot. In other words, you can kind of figure out how it's going to turn out, and you kind of realize that it's not that big of a deal. The stakes just never seem that high, the obstacles that insurmountable.

That said, the film is entertaining, it gets bonus points for being shot at or near the real locations, and I'll always recommend an intelligent, well-made movie for grownups. Note that the screenplay was cowritten by British playwright Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen, although that snappy Coen Brothers patter can only be recognized in fits and starts, chiefly in the opening scene.