In 1957, painter, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is shown to be a Russian spy who is caught by the CIA. This is a true story. Steven Spielberg who directs and produces the movie wonderfully depicts the Cold War from both the sides of the Americans and the Russians and Communism in East Germany. He shows the fear and distrust on both sides. The thoughts and back-story of what is happening at the time is very poignant. He depicts how American school children are taught to hide when the bombs come, and he shows the terror of the East Germans as the wall was built. The backstory is well told in order to set the mood of the film.
Tom Hanks brilliantly portrays James Donovan, an insurance lawyer who is hired to defend Abel in court. Donovan’s supervisors Thomas Watters Jr. (Alan Alda) and Lynn Goodnough (John Rue) request that Donovan take the case. Donovan tries to defend Abel by saying that his constitutional rights were violated and his things searched without a warrant. Despite taking the case to the Supreme Court, the American public is afraid of the Russian Espionage.
A mutual respect develops between Donovan and Abel. Abel keeps quiet and does not betray his government or his job. Donovan respects that and does not believe that Abel should die for doing the job that he was sent to do. Donovan asks, “Will we stand by our cause less resolutely than he stands by his.” Abel respects that Donovan is a man who stands up for his moral convictions. Donovan convinces the Judge that it would be to his advantage to keep Abel alive in case they might need him for leverage in the future.
As Donovan predicted, the U.S. eventually sends a spy plane over Russia. The U.S. pilot is captured and the CIA hires Donovan (as a U.S. citizen) to negotiate a trade of Abel for the pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell). Donovan is sworn to secrecy and cannot even tell his wife Mary (Amy Ryan) that he is to fly to Europe and negotiate for the prisoner exchange in East Berlin.
The plot thickens as neither side trusts each other and the trade becomes more and more complicated. The plot moves very slowly as Spielberg tells the story from every angle and each perspective simultaneously. Despite the slow moving plot, the detail and plot twists keep one glued to their seat in anticipation of what will happen next. The complexity of this true story is amazing. Hanks doesn’t disappoint in his portrayal and delivers an Oscar worthy performance.
FINAL GRADE: A-