Tom Hanks stars in "Bridge of Spies."

Tom Hanks stars in "Bridge of Spies."

Dreamworks

Bridge of Spies is a tonic in polarized times.

It's based on the true story of James Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer who took on the case of accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in 1957. Director Steven Spielberg has crafted a complex film that makes you question the drive to demonize adversaries and, even more, to break constitutional rules to pursue punishment.

Played with self-deprecating charm by two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, Donovan is a regular guy with a loving family, who happens to be a good insurance lawyer. With the down-home decency of a Frank Capra-esque hero, he succeeds more than he fails because he treats people as human beings and appeals to others to do the same.

Tom Hanks, Alan Alda and Amy Ryan star in "Bridge of Spies."

Tom Hanks, Alan Alda and Amy Ryan star in "Bridge of Spies."

Dreamworks

When he takes on the thankless task of defending Abel, everyone from his family to co-workers to strangers staring at him balefully on the subway wants him to lose and let the guy die in an electric chair. Instead, he develops a rapport with Abel, played with masterful understatement by Mark Rylance, a three-time Tony Award winner and TV's Wolf Hall star.

Abel, studying Donovan carefully with searching eyes, tells the story of the "sticking man" he met in his youth -- a man whose response to getting beaten was to get up until his tormentors gave up hitting him. Donovan's deliberation on whether to become a "sticking man" and a bridge between the troubled waters that roil between hostile countries is the question that powers the film.

When an American is captured, the CIA asks Donovan to negotiate a prisoner swap for Abel in East Berlin. The catch is that Donovan must go as a private citizen, keep his mission secret and figure out how to do something he's never done. Complications multiply on arrival when he learns of an American student also being held as a bargaining chip.

Tom Hanks stars in "Bridge of Spies."

Tom Hanks stars in "Bridge of Spies."

Dreamworks

The script by Matt Charman and Ethan and Joel Coen compresses events and alters details for greater dramatization, but stays true to the heart of this remarkable tale. Masterful cuts from Abel to American pilot Francis Gary Powers (the appealing, boyish Austin Stowell), shot down over Soviet territory, underscore the similarities between two men trying to serve their countries.

Authentic re-creations of the period, including duck-and-cover clips about a nuclear holocaust that frightened young students, serve as a reminder of a time, not unlike our own, when the threat of terror kept a steady and disturbing beat.

BRIDGE OF SPIES (A-)

Directed by Steven Spielberg. PG-13 (some violence andbrief, strong language). 135 mins. In wide release.

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