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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies is a tense, taut Cold War thriller inspired by real-life events. Tom Hanks stars as James Donovan, an upstanding American insurance lawyer who's assigned to defend a Soviet spy captured in Brooklyn, events that lead to a hostage exchange. Expect occasional swearing (including a couple of "f--k"s during a tense scene, plus "son of a bitch" and "goddamn hell"), a fair amount of era-accurate smoking, celebratory toasting, and some brief, intense violence -- most notably scenes in which a prisoner is harshly interrogated and others in which people are shot while trying to flee East Germany.
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What's the story?
In BRIDGE OF SPIES, James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is a skilled insurance lawyer who's asked to take on an unusual, challenging case: defending a captured Soviet spy (Mark Rylance) at the height of the Cold War. And although his involvement with the case makes him unpopular, Donovan is determined to make sure his client gets a fair trial, even if he has to appeal the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. Then, when U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down over the Soviet Union, Donovan must take on an even more difficult and dangerous assignment: Go to East Berlin to negotiate a prisoner exchange.
Is it any good?
Written by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen, this film crackles with crispness and clarity. Director Steven Spielberg knows how to keep viewers on the edge of their seats; case in point, Bridge of Spies' opening, which will leave you waiting for a big explosion or defining crash of the kind most often seen in espionage tales. But what happens instead isn't a prototypical setting-into-motion plot device but more a peeling of the proverbial onion skin, moving the plot through the first of many curves and hard lefts.
The period set design bottles 1950s/60s New York's essence, as well as Berlin in the latter half of the movie. If there's any quibble, it's that there's so much story to pack in that a few characters get the short shrift, notably Donovan's wife (ably played by Amy Ryan) and one of his law firm partners (Alan Alda). But ultimately one of the most compelling things about Bridge of Spies is that it truly feels of a different time, devoid of the usual pointed emotional cues and heavy backgrounding that clutter most movies these days. Which isn't to say that you won't be pulled into this spy drama, because you will be. Or that you'll figure out what's going to happen and what the film is about, because you won't. What you will find is a movie stripped bare to its essentials: the retelling of a story based on real-life events about how an insurance lawyer became instrumental in negotiating one of the most important spy-swaps of the Cold War.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Bridge of Spies depicts the Cold War. Teens: Did you know much about this period of history before watching? How could you find out more?
How accurate do you think the movie is to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers decide to tweak facts in some cases?
Is Donovan a role model? Why or why not? Does he seem like someone who'd naturally be the subject of a big Hollywood movie?
- In theaters: October 16, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: February 2, 2016
- Cast: Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Integrity
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence and brief strong language
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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