Tom Hanks stands out in the Cold War spy game



Tom Hanks is great in Bridge of Spies. For 141 minutes, he owns the screen as Cold War attorney James B. Donovan.

The script carefully crafted by Matt Charman and Ethan and Joel Coen places us in 1957, in the city, where CIA agents are chasing a painter played exquisitely by Mark Rylance. The crafty foreigner with the hint of a British accent, you see, is suspected as a Russian spy. A crafty one, too, we discover via the wise direction of Steven Spielberg.

Donovan, a big and smooth talker whose specialty is insurance, draws the short stick in his firm, and is ordered by a smarmy boss (played well by Alan Alda) to give Rudolf Abel the just representation he’s promised by all things American.

Hanks owns the world as Donovan, with a putty face ready to show his emotions when needed but also practiced in poker from those ticklish big-ticket insurance cases.

He’s smart and wise and committed to the cause.

Spielberg paints a vivid picture of those days, with Donovan’s kids immersed in school nuclear war talk and wife (Amy Ryan in a stern role) knowingly by his side even when kept in the dark, and agents and police and law operatives really not wedded to this caught spy getting exonerated at his trial.

That’s the year I was born, and the Cold War had not thawed by the time I was in school, so these scenes seemed real, indeed.

And scary, too, as Donovan gets pulled into East Germany to really deal with the spy games as he negotiates a swap for a pilot downed over Russia and a student captured by the newly erected wall.

Spielberg subtly allows the good guys and bad guys to shake out over time, both sides, with Hanks’ stolid but still emotional work at the heart of it all.

All involved work seamlessly to give us a soul-wrenching look into the days when world politics were simpler at face value but fraught with frightful scenarios nonetheless.

You couldn’t hear a popcorn bag rustle at the robust Friday matinรฉe crowd in the Regal Cinemas theater in Syracuse mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA. Two hours and 21 minutes seemed much shorter. Everybody exhaled at last at the end.

What’s your favorite Tom Hanks movie, and why? What’s your favorite Steven Spielberg movie, and shy? Are you a fan of spy politics movies, and why?

46 thoughts on “Tom Hanks stands out in the Cold War spy game

  1. I waited to read this post because I thought we might see the movie today–which we did. ($5.50 admission for the 4:00 show, plus free large popcorn and drinks because of our Carmike rewards!) My husband and I both enjoyed it. It was very well done. I loved that the early part of the movie emphasized the need for a fair trail and the Constitution. I reminded my husband that John Adams defended the British soldiers at the Boston Massacre trial. And we both wondered how true the movie was.

    I was impressed by Mark Rylance, too. He’s a brilliant actor. He was Cromwell in Wolff Hall, but he was totally different here. As far as spy movies–I thought actually of the mini-series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the bridge scene with Karla and Smiley. Also, Le Carre’s other book, The Spy who came in from the Cold.


  2. I prefer my Tom Hanks in romcoms, I think. You’ve Got Mail, for one. Love that movie. Um, but I like Saving Private Ryan a lot, too, which is Hanks and Spielberg. They’re both brilliant.
    Not into spy movies, overall, but I’m sure The Mister will watch this one and I may or may not watch as well. Hard to say.


  3. My favorite two Tom Hanks movies are “Big” and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” Mark. There are a lot of iconic ones like “Forrest Gump or the DaVinci Code series but I stop and watch the whole thing in both of these films. So much to see and enjoying side characters in both, too. (Amy Adams does a great job in the “war” picture which was really about helping people and raising money to “get ‘er done!”)
    I want to see this film and glad you described it as riveting. Not a popcorn bag rustling in the theater. Great and we’ll written post! ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. I rarely go to the movies, much less to see a film on opening weekend, but the universe aligned just so that I found myself at the theatre Saturday afternoon watching this movie. It is so rare to find a quality movie that actually tells a story without gratuitous explosions, violence, and obscenity (says the woman whose screen name refers to a famous Die Hard quote). It was a welcome change.

    Also, most of the audience was of the Greatest Generation age group, and I live in a town populated by many retired military (especially naval officers). It was hard to eat popcorn because the crowd was so quiet and attentive and I wanted to be respectful of that. Somehow I managed, though. Because popcorn!

    Nice write up! Glad you enjoyed it, too. (And, Tom Hanks. How awesome is that guy?)


    • You surely picked a good weekend to return to the first-run theater, Hippie. Your town was the perfect place to see this one, too, respect-wise. Good job diving into the popcorn quietly! Nothing worse than loud food rustlers in a dark theater … except for the folks who had the audacity to smuggle in a bucket of fried chicken that one time, overwhelming all with the two-hour smell!


  5. mg and i went to see this last night and we both loved it. i love spy movies/thrillers and this filled the bill. loved hanks in it as well as the russian mole. incredible. my fav hanks – captain phillips and of course forrest.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Now I feel that I must see this film. My favourite Tom Hanks film would be Road to Perdition. I have watches ‘You’ve got Mail’ more times than I can remember but ‘Road to Perdition’ was utterly brilliant.


  7. Excellent review Mark. We’re looking forward to this one. Fav Steven Spielberg movie (remember, there are two of us lol ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) Inion: Raiders of the Lost Ark ~ Mathair: The Color Purple. Fav Tom Hanks movie~ Inion: A League of Their Own~ Mathair: The Green Mile. Inion’s fav spy movie: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ~ Mathair’s fav spy movie: Kevin Costner starring in Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out. Sharing this post now!! ๐Ÿ˜‰


  8. He has the Midas Touch, no? I grew up with Hanks, watching “Bosom Buddies” as a girl, then cheesy “Joe Vs The Volcano” and of course, “Big,” the keyboard scene, Zoltar… Just two years ago, at a B&B, the whole family sat down to view “The Money Pit,” despite a heavy screen presence by Shelly Long. How do you narrow it down to one film? He is our Jimmy Stewart, our everyman, convincing as a castaway or Walt Disney himself! Even a Russian dude in “The Terminal.” And how about that scene in “The Green Mile” or the strained father-son relationship in “Nothing In Common,” that I could only barely grasp as a teen? And all these years with no scandal that I can recall. Who else could make people go to a theatre to see a movie called “Turner and Hooch”? But seriously, Mark, over 2 hrs would hurt my back. I’ll have to wait until it’s On Demand.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My favorite Tom Hanks movie is “Forrest Gump” by far. He is such a good actor. I remember when he had a TV show “Bosom Buddies” or something like that. It is scary how much covert stuff is going on out there – I try not to think about it because it kind of freaks me out. I remember the Cold War era when I was a little kid, I was petrified the Russians were going to go nuts and just blow us to smithereens. Do you remember the Nuclear Attack drills, thinking back on it – what a joke – but I guess being trained to do something, anything, was better than sitting there and waiting to get vaporized. I can’t wait to see this movie – it sounds great!!!!


    • I do remember those drills, SD. When we got a little older and more wise(ass) we’d add the last step: And kiss your butt goodbye. Silly elementary school kids we were, or maybe just releasing the tension with humor. I hope you like the movie, SD.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I remember that era (OK I’m old as dirt – at least older than you). Lots of it was very scary and seemed like the world was on a very thin tightrope.
    If this movie and accurately reproduce the uncertainty of those times, then it should be mandated viewing. Then, kids could be hugged and told, “The world is a scary place. We are so lucky to live here. It’s safe here.” That’s not true any more. (Not really a Tom Hanks fan, but have liked a couple of is movies – thanks for the review – will check this one out.) Enjoy the post


  11. Mark Rylance is awesome in “Wolf Hall” on BBC/PBS Masterpiece. Of course Tom Hanks is a national treasure in the same way Jimmy Stewart was/is. My favorite Tom Hanks movie has to be “That Thing You Do” and “Apollo 13”.


  12. Ahhh, Top Gun has to be my favorite Tom Hanks movie. This movie you are reviewing sounds spell binding Mark. I have to be honest with you, movies with spies give me an upset stomach. I know they are out there and I know they are important and the very thought is disturbing to me. People whose who life is dedicated to being something the opposite of the truth. It just twists my guts. I am a realist though and I know their kind is necessary – I just don’t want to know about them. You know when I was trucking, our company would sometimes hire drivers who brought with them secrets of our competitors and bought their way into a job by trading information. My first thought – and it always, always, always proved to be true in the long run – was that this was a personality flaw and what they did for us,they would eventually do TO us – taking company info to a competitor. They were flawed people in my eyes and this is the way I see spies. If a spy can pretend to be a completely different person, then how do you now that they are on your side? In fact how can you know they are on anyone’s side and simply aren’t doing what benefits themselves – with no moral or ethical foundation or dedication to a nation? Way, way too slippery a slope for me my friend.

    ha! Anyway, I see I was on a rant. Thanks so much for the great review Mark – I’m not likely to see this movie as much as it sounds like a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, great rant on what it takes to be a spy at the root of it, Paul. That is a dangerous slope for all involved. Spielberg allowed the humanity of the Russian come out in his relationship with the American attorney played by Tom Hanks, even while displaying how indeed had operated for the political enemy. The zeal of certain Americans in this one is less than admirable, too. That made this movie even deeper for me. And, by the way, Tom Cruise was in ‘Top Gun.’ Tom Hanks was in ‘Captain Phillips.’ Fighter pilot vs. fighting ship captain … ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

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