Bridge of Spies is a 2015 American historical drama-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg from a screenplay written by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. The film stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda. Based on the 1960 U-2 incident during the Cold War, the film tells the story of lawyer James B. Donovan who is entrusted with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers—a pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union—in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a captive Soviet KGB spy held under the custody of the United States.
Bridge of Spies was shot under the working title of St. James Place. Principal photography began on September 8, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York City. The film was released by Touchstone Pictures on October 16, 2015 in North America and distributed by 20th Century Fox in other territories. The name of the film refers to the Glienicke Bridge that connects Potsdam, in former East Germany, with Berlin, in former West Germany.
In 1957 Brooklyn, New York, Rudolf Abel retrieves a secret message from a park bench and reads it just before FBI agents burst into his rented room. He prevents discovery of the message, but other evidence in the room leads to his arrest and prosecution as a Soviet spy.
James B. Donovan, a lawyer who specializes in insurance settlements, is asked by his partners to take on Abel’s defense. The United States believe that Abel is a KGB spy, but want him to have a fair trial to reduce the Soviet Union’s chance to use it for propaganda. Donovan meets with Abel in prison, where the Russian agrees to accept his help. Abel refuses to cooperate with the US government on any revelations of the intelligence world.Although Donovan takes his work seriously, no one—including the prosecuting attorneys, the judge, his firm, or his family—expects him to mount a strong defense of Abel. His efforts to seek acquittal are met with shock and anger by the American public, he is deluged with hate mail, and his life is threatened, but he continues to fight.
Abel is found guilty of all charges, but Donovan convinces the judge to sentence him to 30 years imprisonment, rather than death, on the grounds that Abel may one day be valuable as a bargaining chip with the USSR. Donovan subsequently appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court that the evidence presented by the prosecution is tainted by an invalid search warrant, but loses 5–4.
In the meantime, Francis Gary Powers goes on a U-2 spy plane sortie over the Soviet Union, where he is shot down and captured. He is convicted and subjected to interrogation. Frederic Pryor, an American economics graduate student, visits his German girlfriend in East Berlin just as the Berlin Wall is being built. He tries to bring her back into West Berlin, but is stopped by Stasi agents and arrested as a spy.
The USSR sends a backchannel message to Donovan, via a false letter to Abel from his “family,” proposing a prisoner exchange: Abel for Powers. Donovan has heard of Pryor’s capture and insists on a 2-for-1 exchange instead. Though the CIA is interested only in Powers’ return, it allows Donovan to negotiate for Pryor as well, on condition that the Abel-for-Powers deal is not jeopardized.
The East German government, which is holding Pryor, suddenly pulls out, insulted that Donovan did not inform them that the USSR was a party to the negotiation. The CIA wants to leave Pryor behind and finish the exchange. Donovan threatens East Germany by saying unless Pryor is returned, the entire deal will be scrapped and Abel interrogated, and the USSR will blame East Germany for any damage. East Germany capitulates, and the exchange is conducted, freeing the three men. Donovan gains credit for his achievement.