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Movie Review

Bridge of Spies

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.

Reviewed by: Curtis McParland
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Character Thriller
Length:
2 hr. 22 min.
Year of Release:
2015
USA Release:
October 16, 2015 (wide—2,800+ theaters)
DVD: February 2, 2016
Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

CHANGE THE WORLD—A single man or woman can help change the world. Read about some who did with faith and God’s help…
Jesus Christ, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David

bravery / courage / self-sacrifice

risking everything for your country

about James Donovan

The Cold War

Featuring: Tom HanksJames Donovan
Alan AldaThomas Watters
Peter McRobbie … Allen Dulles
Billy Magnussen … Doug Forrester
Eve Hewson … Jan Donovan
Amy Ryan … Mary Donovan
Austin Stowell … Francis Gary Powers
Mark Rylance … Rudolf Abel
Domenick Lombardozzi … Agent Blasco
Sebastian Koch … Wolfgang Vogel
Michael Gaston … Williams
more »
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producer: Amblin Entertainment
DreamWorks SKG
more »
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“In the shadow of war, one man showed the world what we stand for.”

Steven Spielberg delivers once again with his Cold War thriller “Bridge of Spies.” James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is an insurance lawyer who is hired by the CIA to defend a Russian spy by the name of Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance). Being an insurance salesman, Donovan is hesitant to take on this case but sees it as his patriotic duty to defend Abel and provide him with a fair trial. However, no one, including Donovan’s own family, expects him to make a valiant effort at reaching an acquittal for Abel. Donovan works hard to convince the judge to appeal a potential death sentence for Abel after he is found guilty on everything charged against him This does not make Donovan very popular with the rest of the public, though, as he receives hate mail and even death threats. Donovan convinces the judge to hold Abel as a potential tool of trade in the event that an American may be captured. After not one, but two American citizens are captured and held prisoner by the enemy, Donovan is now on the case to bring negotiations to the Soviets for the trading of Rudolph Abel for these two American men.

“Bridge of Spies” is an extremely well-crafted thriller that is definitely the best film I have seen this year. The writing is flawless, the film’s leads dominate in their acting roles, and, of course, Spielberg delivers some of his best direction in recent memory. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg prove to show that after nearly after a decade they still have the strong chemistry to help bring history to life and “Bridge of Spies” is a perfect example of that. Due to health issues, John Williams was unable to compose the score for the film, but Thomas Newman stepped up to the plate in fine form and delivered a strong, compelling musical score. It should also be mentioned that Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as he guides us through the dark streets of Berlin to the historical atmosphere of federal courtrooms. Bridge of Spies will be no doubt be considered another Steven Spielberg classic.

Unfortunately, “Bridge of Spies” does contain some content concerns, though. The most concerning is the use of some strong language including two f-words, an s-word, a misuse or two of Jesus’ name and God’s name paired with d*mn (3). Expressions including “In the name of God” and “What in God’s name” are interjected a few times as well. Around a half-dozen total milder obscenities pop up including h*ll, b*tch, and a**.

There is isn’t any sexual content to be concerned about, as the closest we get to it is briefly seeing a man in his underwear. The violence is kept to a minimum as someone takes a gunshot through a character’s window just missing someone inside, a plane is shot down and breaks apart in the air (the pilot ejects safely), and a few characters are shot down from a distance (not graphic). One character is put through sleep-deprived interrogations including bright lights and being splashed with buckets of water and some others are told they should commit suicide if they think they may be captured by the enemy. A character is hit in the groin with a rifle butt. The drug and alcohol content is limited, as we only see a few characters smoke and some others consume some hard liquor.

“Bridge of Spies” still provides its audience with some strong redemptive themes, though, as the value of defending one’s country is clearly displayed in addition to even the enemy deserving a fair and equal chance at trial. Donovan shows great dedication to his country and to Abel as he tries his hardest to spare his life and return him back to his home. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV) says to “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Although Donovan started to become one of the most hated men in the United States, he stayed strong and firm during this very long, exhausting trial. It should also be noted that Donovan will not take “no” for an answer and sees not only the value in rescuing one American, but two in the process. In fact, he strategizes the best he can to trade one man for two so no one will be left behind. It was also refreshing to see a family praying around a dinner table and the Pledge of Allegiance recited in a public school.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” —2 Corinthians 12:10

“Bridge of Spies” is definitely aimed more towards an adult audience not mainly because of its content, but because of the intense themes portrayed and the film’s overall tone. I’ll still give this film a recommendation due to its strong themes of patriotism, the value of friendship and family, and themes of loyalty and dedication for standing up for what one believes is right. Please take caution, though, as this film does contain some harsh language and the themes of war may be a bit bothersome to more sensitive audiences. This film should be suitable for ages 13+ depending on maturity and may very well not just be a good history lesson for younger generations, but a moral one as well. “Bridge of Spies” is much more family-friendly than Spielberg’s 2012 historical piece, “Lincoln,” but not quite as clean as 2011’s “War Horse.” However, “Bridge of Spies” is most definitely one of the best films this year and is also one of the safer releases you will find in theaters this fall. Come awards season, don’t be too surprised to see this film nominated in multiple categories. Spielberg has done it once again by bringing history to life and engaging his audience with thrilling, historical facts.

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” —1 Peter 2:16

Violence: Moderate to heavy / Profanity: Moderate to heavy / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—Full disclosure: This movie is about my father, the late James Donovan. I’m 70 years old now, but I am in it as a child (with the name Roger, even though my real name is John, but that’s okay). Mr. Spielberg, with whom my two sisters and I had a private lunch recently, calls it a “character thriller.” The emphasis, in other words, is on strength of character, and there is no better topic in this era of self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement. I saw the movie at the world premiere at Lincoln Center in New York, and I think it’s truly outstanding. The focus on this moment in history is long overdue.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—John B. Donovan, age 70 (USA)
Positive—Pretty much as I remember the classified reports on the event when with the CIA in the spies-in-the-skies during my time with them 1950s-60s. Also, I supported the Powers mission when in the E. Med 1960 and the mission before it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Charlie, age 83 (USA)
Positive—I rarely give a movie a full 5 for artistic merit, but this movie tells the story of captured pilot Gary Powers and how he was exchanged for a Russian spy so brilliantly that I really had to. For me, the story was the main character. The screenplay is clear and strong. How the spy was caught, his trial, the fate of the captured American pilot and the captured American student, who found himself haplessly in Eastern Germany, and the slippery negotiations to exchange the spy for the Western captives, was presented with immense suspense. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole second half of the movie.

The performance by Tom Hanks as James Donovan is superlative as the lawyer appointed to represent the Russian spy. And the spy, Rudol Abell, is played beautifully by Mark Rylance. The movie did have some slick and polished Hollywood stylization, but done well by the experienced Steven Spielberg. I was happy to see Donovan’s son contribute his comment on this page. This is indeed a story that needed to be told.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
Halyna Barannik, age 69 (USA)
Positive—Superb Cold War drama that suspensefully portrays the events surrounding the U2 spy plane shot down over the Soviet Union and negotiations for an exchange of prisoners. Tom Hanks is outstanding as attorney Donovan, a man of integrity, who is shown praying with his family, standing firmly to his convictions while involved in difficult cases, and embodying Proverbs 4:25-27; 11:3; 41:11-12; 2 Corinthians 8:21; Hebrews 13:18; Luke 6:31.

Mark Rylan is excellent as the Soviet spy. Great job of contrasting ideologies, cultures, and escalating tensions between the east and west. Bravo to the patriotism and meticulous detail taken on recreating and depicting the era. Hanks comments about the U.S. Constitution are applause worthy. Overall, better than average morals. Only flaw is the “obligatory” profane language. Does it really add to the movie to say “F***-up” instead of “screwed up”?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Tori, age 40+ (USA)
Positive—Bravo. This movie, though long, was well told, engaging, entertaining as a drama based on a true story; and it left you with hope of the power of one man to make a difference.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Trina W, age 48 (USA)
Positive—We saw “Bridge of Spies” with our two teenagers. It was a really good movie, though a little slow moving, at times. The fact that it is based on true events made it more interesting. The actor, Mark Rylance, who played Rudolf Abel gave an Oscar-worthy performance. He played the character brilliantly. Aside from a few profanities and 2 F-words, it was really clean. I would love it if Hollywood would make more films like this, but, unfortunately, many movie-goers expect constant action and movement. This film moves along at a walking pace, but if you like a good story based on history, with good acting, then you will definitely like this one.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Elicia, age 46 (USA)
Positive—“Man, that was a short movie!” I looked at my watch slightly confused and said, “Julio, it was over two hours!” That simple comment to my friend summed up the entire movie. It is incredible that a movie which is nothing more than people talking to each other can be so entertaining. It is one of the most beautifully filmed movies I have seen in a long time. Gary Power’s infamous U-2 “Dragon Lady” that gets shoot down by the USSR is without question the best looking plane crash I have ever seen in a movie. Given the fact that the U-2 crash is only shown for a minute, it really goes to show the attention to detail the director put into this movie.

Even more impressive were the characters, which are so very believable that you forget they’re actors. What is even more impressive is that the characters are so very likable that when bad things happen you feel concerned for their well being. Most of you are probably thinking “but wait this movie is about making a USSR spy look innocent.” Not quite, although Tom Hank’s character, James Donovan is a lawyer whose been tasked with defending a USSR spy. And that might seem disturbing to some. But rest assured, this is a movie that will make you feel proud to be American. Don’t believe me? Go watch this movie.

The reason I gave this movie an excellent moral rating, is because this is a movie about doing what’s right. Even when Donovan’s personal fears seem overwhelming and when his friends and family compel him to take the easy way out, he stands his ground. There is something that any Christian can learn from this movie. Also, it’s nice to see a movie that showcases Christianity in a positive light.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Rob Mackay, age 23 (USA)
Positive—First, let me say I saw this film in my favorite neighborhood theater on a crisp late fall day. I had both a free movie pass and a free cherry icee. I was predisposed to like whatever movie I saw. However, I was not prepared for the excellence of this film. I was expecting a stodgy, respectable docudrama that would play well on cable television. Instead, I discovered a thoughtful, compelling thriller, in which character development triumphs. The actors, Hanks in particular, are perfectly integrated into the story. Except for a few expletives, this movie could have been made a few decades ago.

But “Bridge of Spies” is old fashioned in ways that count. The filmmaker has trusted the intelligence of his audience, and that is a rarity indeed. I am glad films such as this are still being made for adults.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Morris, age 51 (USA)
Negative
Negative—American movies have a tendency to transform fact into glitz. This film is no exception. It completely lacks reality. Acting good, especially by Rylance. Better editing would have greatly improved the film, specifically by cutting 15-20 minutes.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—James E. Mckinney, age 82 (USA)

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