The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's film critic Barbara Vancheri began her review of "Bridge of Spies" with this simple sentence:
"No one does decency like Tom Hanks."
That, in a nutshell, is why this movie from director Steven Spielberg works so well and is so good. Tom Hanks.
Of course, there is more to it than that. There is a terrific story. In the height go the Cold War, insurance lawyer Jim Donovan (Hanks) is selected to defend a man accused of being a Soviet spy. Everyone, including the judge in the case, wants a perfunctory trial, a quick conviction, and, it is hoped, and even quicker execution. Donovan, of course, thinks that a trial should be just that - a fair and impartial hearing in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. As a result of his stand, Donovan becomes a pariah of sorts to his colleagues, his government (great line from a CIA agent: "Don't go boy scout on me, Counselor."), the people with whom he takes the morning train, and even his own family.
But everything changes when an American, U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, is shot down over Soviet airspace, paraded before the world, and tried and convicted as a spy and sentenced to ten years of USSR-style imprisonment. Just as Donovan predicted, a plan is hatched to exchange Rudolf Abel, the spy that Donovan defended, for Powers, and to whom does the CIA turn but lawyer and negotiator Jim Donovan to make the deal. The whole process of the Powers-Abel exchange is complicated when Donovan learns that an American student who was in the wrong place at the wrong time has been arrested in East Berlin and charged with espionage by the East German government. Donovan thinks that this kid should be a part of the deal, too, and I will say no more.
For all you youngsters out there, this is a true story based on actual events. I am old enough to remember the "U2 incident", as it came to be known, and the Cold War paranoia of those times. No one can create a mood and paint a picture of an era better than Spielberg, and his images of a cold and snowy East Berlin in 1961, still devastated by the damages of World War II bombings, really bring home the bleakness and fear of that era.
And as for Hanks, well, he delivers again. He is a Cold War version of Attticus Finch in this one, doing what he knows to be right while all the while realizing the horrors of the situation that circumstances have thrust upon him. Plus, he has this damn cold and all he really wants is to get home and sleep in his own bed. Who can't relate to that?
We are in that time of the year when Hollywood releases what it deems to be its best pictures, the ones that will rack up all the Oscar nominations and awards. Not sure how many nominations, if any, "Bridge of Spies" will receive, but I can tell you that both Hanks and Spielberg, multiple Oscar winners and nominees in the past, remain at the top of their games in this one.
Four stars from The Grandstander on this one.