Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies is a 2015 American historical dramatic thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. The film stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda. Based on the 1960 U-2 incident during the Cold War, the film tells the story of lawyer James B. Donovan who is entrusted with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers—a pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union—in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a captive Soviet KGB spy held under the custody of the United States.
Bridge of Spies was shot under the working title of St. James Place. Principal photography began on September 8, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York City. The film was released by Touchstone Pictures on October 16, 2015 in North America. 20th Century Fox distributed in other territories.
In 1957 Brooklyn, KGB spy Rudolph Abel retrieves a secret message from a park bench and reads it just before FBI agents burst into his rented room. He is able to prevent discovery of the message, but other evidence in the room leads to his arrest and prosecution.
James B. Donovan, a lawyer who specializes in insurance settlements, is asked by his partners to take on Abel’s defense: he must be seen to get a fair trial to reduce the incident’s value as Soviet propaganda. He meets with Abel in prison, where Abel agrees to accept his help, though he steadfastly refuses to admit guilt or cooperate with the US government.
Although Donovan takes his work seriously, no one – including the prosecuting attorneys, the judge, his firm, or even his own family – expects him to actually seek an acquittal. His efforts are met with shock and anger by the American public, he is deluged with hate mail, and an attempt is made on his life, but he continues to fight.
Abel is found guilty of all charges, but Donovan convinces the judge to sentence him to 30 years imprisonment, rather than death, on the grounds that Abel may one day be valuable as a bargaining chip with the USSR. Donovan subsequently appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court that the evidence presented by the prosecution is tainted by an invalid search warrant, but loses 5-4.
In the meantime, Francis Gary Powers goes on a U-2 spy plane sortie over the Soviet Union, where he is shot down and captured. He is convicted and subjected to interrogation.
Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student, visits his German girlfriend in East Berlin just as the Berlin Wall is being built. He tries to bring her back into West Berlin, but is stopped by Stasi agents and arrested as a spy.
The USSR sends a backchannel message to Donovan, via a false letter to Abel from his “family,” proposing a prisoner exchange: Abel for Powers. Donovan has heard of Pryor’s capture, however, and insists on a 2-for-1 exchange instead. Though the CIA is only interested in Powers’ return, it allows Donovan to negotiate for Pryor as well, on condition that the Abel-for-Powers deal is not jeopardized.
The deal appears to be sealed, but the East German government that holds Pryor suddenly pulls out, insulted that Donovan did not inform them that the USSR was a party to the negotiation. The CIA wants to leave Pryor behind and finish the exchange, but Donovan risks the entire deal by resorting to a threat against East Germany: either return Pryor as agreed, or the entire deal will be scrapped and Abel will be interrogated, and the USSR will blame East Germany for any resulting damage. East Germany capitulates, and all three men are freed. Donovan returns home to full credit for his accomplishment, and a much warmer reception by the public.