It’s 1957, and Cold War tensions are high, which means defending an accused Soviet spy is a bad look for insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks). But with the world watching, the Americans feel that justice has to be seen to be done, even with a guilty verdict locked in.
Donovan ends up arguing that Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) should avoid the death penalty because a Soviet spy could be a handy thing for the US to have around. When U2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers is shot down over Russia and the Soviets want to trade spy for spy, he’s proven right.
As another of Steven Spielberg’s portraits of an American doing good largely by doing a good job, this lacks the grandeur of Lincoln while maintaining the focus on entertainingly wordy backroom deals (and Tom Hanks once again plays decency personified). There’s plenty of wry humour scattered throughout to undercut the patriotism (the Coen brothers worked on the script), while the grit of the East Berlin swap talks in the film’s back half provides some much-needed tension in a film that’s more interested in saluting honest men (on either side) doing an honest job. Even if that job’s spying.
Reviewed by Amanda Sherring