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Movie Review

'Bridge of Spies' Will Make You Squirm


The theater announces Bridge of Spies as a thriller, and it certainly features a physically uncomfortable amount of suspense. But it's a very unusual thriller in that it offers no car chases, no gunfights, no big orange explosions, no sex and very little physical action, though the shooting down of the spy plane is as exciting a sequence as you'll see anywhere.

But the main story is a series of tense and seemingly impossible negotiations between the Russians and the Americans over the exchange of prisoners who are supposedly spies, with neither side coming out looking very pretty.

The Russians-- or, more correctly, the East Germans-- are more physically brutal and their prison is dirty and dilapidated, but the chief American government man is quite prepared to desert one of the prisoners in Russian hands, and Alan Alda, who seems to represent the official American position, is concerned only that the U.S. give the impression of a fair trial, for propaganda purposes.

But Tom Hanks is devoted to a real justice system and the rules of the American criminal law. And most surprisingly, the Russian spy is as dedicated to his rules as Hanks is to his. And since both sides are obviously involved in illeagal spying and trying to cover it up, there's not much to choose between them on moral grounds.

Both spy plots are based on historic fact, how closely I can't say, but Bridge of Spies is no propaganda piece. Structurally, the two stories are interwoven carefully to go along simultaneously, with emphasis on how similarly the Russians and Americans-- and, to a lesser extent, the East Germans-- are behaving. Acting, especially by Hanks and the Russian spy, Mark Rylance, is excellent, and the script is literate and to the point. And the suspense of Bridge of Spies will make you squirm.