‘We have parts of the plane and we also have the pilot, who is quite alive and kicking. The pilot is in Moscow and so are parts of the plane.’ — Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, 1960
By Rich Acritelli
It was a great time to be alive within American society during the 1950s and 1960s. Our nation defeated the fascist powers of Germany and Japan and was the strongest country to emerge from the fighting of World War II. These decades saw the growth of Levittown, Mickey Mantle hitting home runs, massive goods and services being consumed by our citizens and “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Honeymooners” on television.
While this nation enjoyed these positive times, the United States was engulfed in the Cold War. These concerns are depicted through Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ production of “Bridge of Spies.” Once again these two Hollywood icons have created a unique film that will not only be well perceived in movie theaters but will be used by future high school and college teachers to describe the impact of this epic conflict.
Directed by Spielberg, this movie does a masterful job of showing how our government functioned during those tumultuous years at home and abroad. Hanks portrays James B. Donovan, a New York insurance lawyer who was part of the prosecuting team that convicted the top Nazis at Nuremberg in 1945. He was also approached in 1957 by the government to provide a capable defense for Soviet spy Rudolph Abel, played by Mark Rylance, who was arrested with American military intelligence.
While he was apprehensive at first to take this case, he understood that even enemies of the state were entitled to due process. Through this part of “Bridge of Spies” Spielberg depicted how Donovan was able to see both sides of the Cold War through the Soviet perspective. This aspect becomes dominant within the film when Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane was shot down over communist territory in 1960. The creators of this movie supremely showed the paranoia that our Central Intelligence Agency held in training its pilots for the dangerous and secret operations that it conducted.
Powers, played by Austin Stowell, understood the gravity of the Cold War and accepted the risks inherent in taking high-altitude pictures of enemy troop movements and weaponry. When Powers was shot down, it presented a dilemma for our leadership, which did not want our pilot to be executed for espionage.
During and after his defense of Rudolph Abel, Donovan stressed the need for our government not to execute this spy and to treat him with some decency. Although these were humanitarian views, Donovan continued to counsel the government about the need to show fairness out of the fear that eventually one of our own spies would be caught by the enemy. Well, the movie shows how his assessment comes to fruition.
Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, played by Peter McRobbie, pushed Donovan to travel to East Berlin to engineer an exchange of the Russian spy for Powers’ release from captivity. From a historical point of view, Spielberg produced the hysteria of the earliest moments when the communists erected the Berlin Wall. “Bridge of Spies” teaches the viewer how the communists tried to isolate the eastern part of Berlin from the western world, the chaos between these powers and the pressure that was placed on Powers to break under imprisonment.
Donovan was tasked with not only getting Powers back but also an American student who was caught behind the wall. With common sense, intelligence and poise, Donovan understood that this incident could have triggered a massive war between these two political and military foes.
The all-star cast also includes Alan Alda, Amy Ryan, Billy Magnussen, Michael Gaston, Domenick Lombardozzi and Eve Hewson.
Once again the combination of Spielberg and Hanks has made a film that will be respected by moviegoers that never get tired of watching this type of American history. It is possible that these two men could be one of the best teams to ever make movies of this magnitude. “Bridge of Spies” is a historic thriller that will continually show you how difficult the Cold War was to wage for our government and the serious national threats that were always present against our citizens during and after this time period.
‘Bridge of Spies,’ is now playing in local theaters. Rated PG-13.