'Bridge of Spies'

Tom Hanks plays an American insurance lawyer sucked into a world of espionage
EVERY STEP YOU TAKE: In 'Bridge of Spies,' Tom Hanks plays an American insurance lawyer sucked into a world of espionage and paranoia at the dawn of the Cold War.

It's one of his his very best films, but the true story Bridge of Spies has the typical problem of Stephen Spielberg films. What would be a quick word to the wise in a more subtle director's scene has to be repeated, heightened in closeup, underscored with the strains of John Williams (or Thomas Newman, in this case).

Lines that justify the Coen Brothers credit on the script are here, particularly some comedic hair-splitting about the meaning of buying insurance. But there is also frustrating sentiment, as when Tom Hanks' character explains to a government functionary that "All lives matter," as if educated people talked in bumper-stickers 55 years ago.

Hanks, continuing to excel as a mature, tricky and tough actor, plays New York insurance lawyer, Bill Donovan, who is drafted into the world of intelligencers in the days before the Berlin Wall was built. Donovan is asked by the New York bar to take up the defense of a widely loathed figure, the frail Soviet spy, Col. Rudolf Abel (fascinatingly played by Mark Rylance). Abel barely escapes the electric chair and is alive as a pawn when the USSR has a prisoner we want back: the convicted spy against Russia, Lt. Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).

Closer to John Le Carre than the usual Spielberg, the film mirrors the two different worlds each spy inhabits—the courtrooms and prisons versus the setup of the U2 reconnaissance program out of Pakistan. Spielberg shuttles deftly between the two sides of the stories, and there are some unadorned words to the wise—passing stinging references to how the Bill of Rights has been mangled during our own War on Terror.

Aside from his facility as a director, and the classic-movie style flow of his images,Spielberg is the American cinema's reigning history geek. The scenery of Berlin, with the raw-cut border through it, is as richly observed as the ghetto in Schindler's List. The thrilling, dialogue-free scenes of Abel's stalking and capture at the beginning are replete with those seemingly trivial details that make the past the past.

Bridge of Spies

PG-13; 135 Mins.

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