Spielberg, Hanks engage audiences in ‘Bridge of Spies’ historical thriller

With every new film release, the bar is set extremely high for three-time Academy Award winning director Steven Spielberg. And, as expected, his newest espionage thriller “Bridge of Spies” does not disappoint.

Based upon one of the hottest events of the Cold War, Spielberg along with Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks, recreate the story of Brooklyn insurance lawyer James Donovan who was chosen to defend accused Soviet spy Rudolph Abel in 1957.

Despite the disapproval from his family and community, Donovan takes on the daunting task of representing a man who is already believed to be guilty. Although Abel was found guilty on all counts, Donovan reaches an agreement with the judge to spare Abel the death penalty on the grounds that Abel may become valuable when tensions reach their climax with the Soviet Union.

After a surveillance mission gone wrong, Donovan is thrust into tension-filled negotiations of a prisoner swap with the Soviets, who captured an American U-2 pilot, and East German leaders who detained an American student. The film stays true to Spielberg’s discernible creative style of critical conversations, challenging his audience to connect the various pieces of the puzzle presented by the characters throughout the film.

But perhaps the most captivating part of the film is the development of the two central characters, James Donovan and Rudolph Abel. Hanks’ trustworthy and amicable presence made him Spielberg’s ideal choice for the role of Donovan.

When asked why he chose to make this film, Spielberg replied, “I just find that the real James Donovan is a great example of what we need more of today, not only in the diplomatic world but on Capitol Hill… people should be more patient with each other in trying to celebrate what makes us different rather than being so quick to judge someone who is not the same as us.”

Donovan’s dedication to giving Abel a fair trial paints him as the “unlikely American hero,” by showing that even in a time of nationwide suspicion and distrust, American ideals of equality and fairness still hold immense value.

Rudolph Abel, played by Mark Rylance, is the first character we meet in the film. His mute and inconspicuous demeanor originally dubbed him an enemy of the state, but his sympathetic and almost innocent nature is revealed through his conversations and interactions with Donovan. The small hints of humor provided by Rylance and the friendship he develops with Donovan make it nearly impossible not to like the shy and reserved man.

No newcomer to historical dramas, Spielberg has perfected the art of keeping his audience engaged even in a film whose outcome is already known. He says, “A movie casts a spell. All movies cast spells. If audiences get involved enough in the characters and the story, they suspend their disbelief and part of that suspension of disbelief means canceling what really happened in the world.”

That is just what Spielberg does in “Bridge of Spies:” he immerses his audience into an unknown perspective about a well-known story full of ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances.

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