The period is the late 1950’s in America and the Cold War paranoia is at it’s height and people believe that it is only a matter of time before the “Reds drop one on us ” to coin a phrase.
A suspected Russian spy is cornered by the C.I.A in Brooklyn and brought to trial. Here we meet James Donovan ( Tom Hanks ) who is asked to defend Rudolf Abel ( Mark Rylance ) in his spying trial. I will have to reveal a plot point here to continue the review – he is found guilty, but this happens to be a true story so I am not revealing anything that did not happen in real life, sorry folks.
Now the action moves to 70,000 feet about Soviet territory and we find US pilot Gary Powers hurtling towards the ground, being captured and being put into a showtrial by the Russian state for espionage. At the same time in East Berlin we find a young American Yale economics student quite literally behind enemy lines as the Berlin wall is built and closed behind him, trapping him there and he finds himself being arrested and thrown in jail by the East German authorities.
James Donovan is now called on again to make the swap. The Americans want their pilot back and the Russians want their spy back, but neither side can be seen talking directly to each other. This now turns the story into a game of brinkmanship – a real life game of chess, who will make the first move ? Further complicated by James’s insistence to get back both the pilot and the young student. This gets both the East German authorities and the American C.I.A’s backs up and the Russians aren’t exactly too thrilled about the idea of a 2 for 1 swap either.
What will happen next would be to give away the ending but just to say that director Steven Spielberg is on top form here and both the main actors give strong performances that might be worthy of an Oscar or two next Spring.
Although there is a bigger story being told here, it is at it’s heart a one man story about James Donovan, a good man put in a difficult situation and will he do the right thing ? It is not the first time this style of sory has been told by Steven Spielberg – Schindler’s List being another example.
A great story,well told and gripping. My cinema audience made no sound while watching it which is always the sign of a really good movie story.