Spy swap meet by Richard Jones

A look at Bridge Of Spies (M)

bridgeJUST about everyone on the planet knows where they were when Princess Diana died in that car crash in a Paris underpass tunnel.

Some of a certain vintage will also remember their location when they heard the news of President Kenney’s assassination in 1963.

But the exact time and place you were when news came through in May 1960 of the downing of America’s Gary Powers, the pilot of the U-2 super spy plane? No, I didn’t think so.

Prolific director Steven Spielberg has used the Powers’ drama to re-tell the story of New York attorney James B Donovan (Tom Hanks) and his negotiations behind the scenes in divided Berlin to rescue the American pilot.

First of all there’s a bit of explanation needed as to how and why Donovan was entrusted with this delicate mission.

Donovan might have seemed an unlikely choice given that he worked as a Brooklyn insurance lawyer, albeit following a stint as an assistant prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in the late Forties.

But he had proved remarkably adroit in defending Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) a seemingly innocuous landscape artist who’d been arrested on charges of spying for Russia and put on trial for espionage.

And even though Abel is found guilty Donovan mounts an appeal and saves Abel from the death penalty.

So there’s the bargaining chip. With Powers (Austin Stowell) in prison in East Berlin Donovan and his handlers reason they can arrange a straight swap – Abel for Powers.

The second half of Spielberg’s drama is set in freezing Berlin with the Cold War enveloping everyone within coo-ee of the Wall. 

Donovan isn’t well regarded or even liked by his CIA team led by agent Williams (Michael Gaston). They deposit him in a grubby safe house while they live the high life in the Hilton.

And when Donovan tries to make contact – on his own – with a German lawyer on the east side of the wall, he’s confronted in the snow by a street gang and hands over his cashmere overcoat.

Donovan is engaged on a secondary mission. He wants to include in the swap jailed American graduate student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) who had tried to bring his German girlfriend back into West Berlin.

Pryor had been arrested as a spy by East German border guards at the Wall and thrown into prison.

The CIA through agent Williams reluctantly agree to Donovan including Pryor in a 2-for-1 swap as long as the Powers’ part of the deal proceeds unhindered.

So there’s the quandary for Donovan and the whole team. They’ve got to make arrangements with not only the Russian KGB agents in East Berlin but also the East German authorities.

The film reaches a terrific climax as the parties gather on either side of the brightly lit Glienicke Bridge and wait to see just who will turn up for this historic swap.



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