Steven Spielberg’s rendition of private attorney James Donovan’s (Tom Hanks) defense of a Cold War Russian spy (Mark Rylance) and then his negotiation of the swap of that spy for downed U2 flier Gary Powers and an American student detained in East Berlin is assured, workmanlike, forgettable, and plagued by the schmaltz that accompanies much of his work. Spielberg takes a can’t miss, gripping tale of espionage and burdens it with overwrought homilies to American civil liberties, repetitive scenes of bland conversation, and cheap comedy (Rylance is even given a catchphrase he repeats three times). I’m as patriotic as the next fella, but it’s not enough to show Hanks resisting the zeal of the Cold War simply because he’s Hanks. We never learn why Donovan holds his convictions. They apparently come with Hanks, no assembly required.
Worse, Spielberg juices up the action, probably because he sensed the movie was a bit of a slog. So, Donovan’s house is shot up because he is representing a Russian spy (never happened) and Donovan witnesses East Germans gunned down as they try and make it over the wall (also never happened).
It’s an okay film, it has some moments, and I’ve certainly seen worse, but it’s no great shakes, and as with much of Spielberg’s work, it stays safely in the lines.