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Movie Review

Jim Donovan is a good lawyer.

OK. A bit more specificity is needed here. Jim Donovan is a good insurance lawyer. He's an even-keeled, sharp-minded guy who knows how to represent his clients well. And they like him and respect him for that.

For some reason, though, when the Feds snag a local man named Rudolf Abel for being a Soviet spy, the area bar committee taps Jim to defend him. And that just strikes Jim as a crazy choice. Sure, he was peripherally involved in the Nuremberg trials back during the war, but that was a long time ago. It's 1957 now. Surely, he reasons, they could find an experienced lawyer better suited to defend this person.

The officials simply pat Jim on the shoulder and smile. It's not a big deal, they assure him. It's perfunctory. This guy was caught red-handed (chuckle, chuckle). He's as guilty as Stalin. But they have to at least go through the motions. "It can't look like our justice system tosses people on the ash heap," they tell him. And Jim can't really argue with that. After all, it is his firm belief that everyone deserves a defense. And he tells them exactly that.

What no one seems to realize is that Jim Donovan means what he says. They've chosen someone who passionately believes in the law he represents and the Constitution on which his country stands. He'll fight for this Rudolf Abel with every fiber of his ability. And that fighting spirit not only surprises the judge presiding over the case, it surprises Abel himself. Indeed, the soft-spoken spy is quite disarmed by Jim's upright and earnest efforts.

"You'd better be careful, Jim," Abel says with real concern as he sees public tensions rising. But Jim Donovan isn't necessarily a "careful" man. He is a good one, an honorable one. And he'll stand by his beliefs.

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Positive Elements

Abel compares Jim to an upright man that his father once told him to watch and emulate when he was a boy. The two form something of a friendship, showing that compassion and honor can sway even the hardest heart.

Jim's choices aren't always easy, of course. When public opinion turns against him, he has to fear for his own safety, as well as that of his family. And he has to explain to his wife and kids why his seemingly dangerous choices matter so much. Jim even argues before the Supreme Court that who we are as a people—law abiding, upright, caring and good—is our greatest weapon against the evils and wars around us. Jim also makes it clear to a shunned individual that it doesn't matter what other people think of you. What matters is knowing you did the right thing.

[Spoiler Warning] Jim's work with the courts and his later negotiations with two Eastern Bloc countries are instrumental in keeping Abel and two other men alive (a downed American U-2 pilot and a captured American student).

Spiritual Content

Jim prays a blessing over his family's meal.

Sexual Content

None.

Violent Content

Jim watches from a distance—in horror—as several people trying to climb over the Berlin Wall are shot by soldiers. A U-2 spy plane is blown out of the sky by antiaircraft fire. (We see the pilot dangling and thumping against the exterior of the burning and disintegrating craft as it spirals toward the ground.) That pilot survives, and is then put through a series of rough, sleep-deprived interrogations by Soviet military forces. It's worth noting that U.S. military officials have made it clear that if any of the U-2 pilots were to crash they should either go down with their plane or commit suicide. An American student is hit with a rifle butt and manhandled by East German soldiers. Jim is threatened by a group of young men who steal his overcoat. Someone shoots through his living room window, barely missing his teen daughter.

Crude or Profane Language

Two f-words. One s-word. Two or three uses each of "h---," "b--ch" and "a--." God's name is trivialized once or twice and connected with "d--n" three more times. There's an indistinct abuse of Jesus' name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A number of people, including Abel, smoke cigarettes. Jim and several others down glasses of booze together. And while in Berlin, Jim tosses back hard alcohol and pours liquor into his tea.

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

There are ideals worth standing up for, director Steven Spielberg clearly states in Bridge of Spies. 1) To stand firm in your concern for others. 2) To strive for what is just, no matter the outcome. 3) To remain diligent with integrity. Some might call those upright ideals. A certain generation in the U.S. would surely call them American ideals. And, of course, they are also godly ideals. Virtues, if you will.

Those are all the traits of a man named Jim Donovan. And he's not just a film character. He was an actual middle-aged American insurance lawyer who was pressed to take on the undesirable task of defending a Soviet spy back in the late 1950s. Then, five years later, he found himself thrust into a secret negotiation between three tight-lipped governments.

His is a story with a moralistic flare that might have stumbled in lesser hands. Might have felt a tad too preachy. Might have come off as too old-fashioned as it speaks with fervor about the value of any single life and the necessity for honor and compassion. As it tells us of the personal price that some are willing to pay for those cherished things.

I will say that Spielberg's experienced touch and actor Tom Hank's seasoned everyman dexterity are tarnished by a few awkwardly profane moments that seem wholly out of place in context. But this is also a film of immersive drama and compelling, painting-like, perfectly filmed images. A movie that reminds us that movies can still be made well, in spite of everything we've seen to the contrary.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

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