This film, based on true events, is directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Tom Hanks. Enough said! It‘s one of the best films of the year.
The film begins in 1957 in Brooklyn during the Cold War. Rudolf Abel, a KGB intelligence officer superbly played by Mark Rylance, is arrested for espionage in the United States. To give the impression that he will get a fair hearing, Abel will need a competent lawyer. Thomas Watters Jr. (Alan Alda) approaches his employee James Donovan, played by Tom Hanks in one of the best performances in his career, about defending Abel. Donovan is an insurance attorney, who is good at his job. He was also involved in the Nuremberg trials years prior. Donovan’s wife Mary, played by Oscar nominee Amy Ryan, is very much against it because of the impact on their family, but Donovan agrees to it, saying that everyone is entitled to a good defense.
But Donovan’s boss and even the judge aren’t interested in a fair trial. They know he’s guilty and really don’t want Donovan to truly defend him. Just move things along quickly and, we assume, send Abel to the electric chair. But Donovan takes his job seriously and mounts a defense of Abel, showing genuine concern for his client. Several times throughout the film, when things aren’t looking so good for Abel, Donovan asks him “Are you worried?” Abel not showing any obvious signs of worry, asks him “Would it help?”
In addition to wanting to give his client a fair trial, Donovan also prophetically looks ahead to see that Abel could be valuable in the event the Soviet Union captured one of our men. As such, he argues for imprisonment, rather than the death penalty.
This is a well-directed, acted and written film, with strong performances in particular from Hanks and Rylance. I would not be surprised if they, along with Spielberg and script writers Matt Charman, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, all receive Oscar nominations for their work here.
As far as content concerns, the film includes a few completely unnecessary words, and a few instances of God’s name being misused. We also see some Cold War related violence.