Bridge of Spies Parent Review

Donovan's moral character is a strong positive message about avoiding the temptation of falling prey to situational ethics.

Overall B+

Lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place when he is recruited by the CIA to defend a Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) in the hopes of negotiating the release of a captured American pilot. This movie is directed by Steven Spielberg.

Violence C
Sexual Content A
Profanity D+
Substance Use C

Bridge of Spies is rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.

Movie Review

The spy thriller genre has deep roots dating back to the Cold War. However most of those early movies belonged to fictitious heroes like James Bond. Fifty years later much of the clandestine work has been brought out of the shadows and we have more details about some of the real people involved in this curious career.

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It’s 1957 and Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is captured by FBI agents in Brooklyn. He is charged with spying for the Soviet Union and, according to US law, is entitled to legal counsel. Not surprisingly it’s tough to find a lawyer willing to defend an alleged spy. Finally James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) agrees to speak for the man that is quickly rising to the top of list of America’s most hated criminals. Facing incredible bias and pressure from CIA agents, other legal cohorts and even the judge assigned to the case, Donovan struggles to maintain his principled stance in support of the Sixth Amendment and it’s guaranty of the accused’s right to a fair trail. It’s a fight that even involves his family after a drive-by-shooting leaves their home riddled with bullets.

Eventually Donovan manages to avoid a death sentence for his client, who is instead sentenced to decades in jail. The basis of the master lawyer’s argument is that the United States needs to demonstrate its commitment to fair and impartial justice for all, topped off with a note that with the increasing Cold War tensions, the country may one day need a Soviet spy to exchange for a US prisoner.

His forward thinking proves valuable. Three years later, in 1960, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down while flying a U2 mission over the USSR. Captured by the Soviets, Powers is sentenced to ten years in prison. But the greater worry is the information the pilot may share under interrogation. Again, Donovan is called upon—this time to broker a deal that would exchange Rudolf Abel for the return of Gary Powers. Going one step further, Donovan also explores the possibility of bargaining for the release of Frederick Pryor (Will Rogers), a young US student studying in Berlin who was arrested on no specific charges by East German police.

Donovan’s moral character is a strong positive message about avoiding the temptation of falling prey to situational ethics. The man is determined to see Abel receive the same right to justice that any other criminal would be entitled to, even if it puts his own career and safety at risk. Yet even with this powerful statement for teens and adults, there are moments of content that parents and teachers will want to note. Profanities, although infrequent, include a mix of mild swearwords and two unnecessary sexual expletives. In one scene a character looks out a train window while it passes the newly erected Berlin Wall and sees people being shot as they attempt to scale the barrier. As well, tobacco use is seen throughout this period film, as is frequent alcohol consumption.

Make no mistake, Bridge of Spies is not an action movie. Rather it builds tension out of such ordinary things as a close-up of a telephone surrounded by people waiting for it to ring. That may sound dull, but as you are pulled into the human lives that make up these historical events, you understand the sound of that bell might just prove to be a death knell. Featuring highly capable actors working with a script that doesn’t rush through the story’s complex web of negotiations and intrigue, this engaging film works well to remind us that justice, though often not convenient, should at least be consistent.

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Billy Magnussen, Amy Ryan, Eve Hewson. Running time: 142 minutes. Theatrical release October 16, 2015. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Bridge of Spies here.

Bridge of Spies Parents Guide

One of the main points of this movie is the idea of treating others the way you would want to be treated. James Donovan was determined to provide Soviet spy Rudolf Abel with sound legal counsel. Others disagreed, feeling he was an exception to the Sixth Amendment. How do you feel about that? When might it be justified to make exceptions to the Sixth Amendment?

Is spying just another “job” (as it is referred to in this movie)? Is it a legitimate use of tax dollars? When is spying justified? When is it not?

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