Bridge of Spies is a lawyer’s movie. James B. Donovan*, played by Tom Hanks, is seemingly plucked by chance to represent a Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel in Brooklyn, New York at the height of extreme patriotism in the late 1950s. The film, which is directed by Steven Spielberg, seems to focus on the valve of negotiation over brinkmanship.
In an early scene, Donovan (Hanks) a defense lawyer, is discussing an insurance claim with Plaintiff’s counsel. The issue is an accident case with 5 victims and one accident. The victim’s lawyer is trying to convince Donovan the $100,000 insurance policy should be paid to each of the 5 victims since each was affected by the insured car colliding with their motorcycles individually. With a simple analogy, Donovan explains that a bowling ball hitting 10 pins for a strike is not ten separate occurrences but just one event (meaning, he only has to pay $100,000 total).
This folksy approach gives Donovan a unique ability to diffuse international brinkmanship between the United States, the USSR and East Germany. As a lawyer, Donovan brings the concept of American fairness and the rule of law both to his defense of an accused criminal spy and in choreographing a two for one prisoner exchange. The role of the lawyer as a common sense and honorable figure able to resolve a complex situation triumphs in Bridge of Spies.
*(James B. Donovan was not quite the simple neighborhood lawyer he was portrayed as in the movie. He attended Harvard Law School, was general counsel at the office of Strategic Services during World War II and then served as assistant to Justice Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg Trials. He later served as the President of the New York Board of Education, was a published author, ran for the United States Senate and was a recipient of the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.)