I am often asked for my opinion of this 2015 movie, directed by Steven Spielberg. So here goes.

It is an outstanding production, as long as you remember the usual caveat that Hollywood provides when it portrays a real happening – “Inspired By True Events”.

The recruitment by the CIA of U-2 pilots to overfly the Soviet Union, ending with the MayDay 1960 shootdown, is related in the early part of the movie. But the focus is on the exchange of Gary Powers for Soviet spy Rudolph Abel on the Glienecker bridge in Berlin in 1962. American attorney James Donovan was chosen by the US government as the unofficial negotiator. He is played by Tom Hanks (below left), but the real star of the movie is British actor Mark Rylance (below right) who plays Abel. He won no fewer than 18 awards, including an Oscar for best supporting actor.

James Donovan played by Tom Hanks in Bridge of SpiesRudolf Abel played by Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies






Now for the nitpicks. The movie crew went to Beale AFB to produce some of the early scenes, so they filmed one of today’s U-2S jets – not the smaller U-2C from the late 1950s:

U-2 as hangar opens from Bridge of Spies

That’s forgiveable, but the pilot briefing scene in the hangar could have been much better and more accurately scripted. Moreover, the cameras shown dangling (how silly!) from the U-2 look nothing like the B-camera that was carried on the MayDay overflight.

For dramatic effect, there’s a scene in Donovan’s house where bullets are fired through his window. He certainly took criticism from hardline American Cold War Warriors who opposed the swop of a seasoned Soviet spy for a mere pilot. But the shooting never happened.

There are two excellent factual books on this story, both written by British authors. “Bridge of Spies” by Giles Whittell tells the story from start to finish, and “Abel” by Vin Arthey which is a biography of the Soviet spy. They are both still available as paperbacks from Amazon. A DVD of the film is also available from Amazon.

By the way, the spy pilot’s son Gary Powers Jr has a cameo role in the film. He plays an anonymous CIA employee who accompanies some other ‘men in suits’ as they walk towards the U-2 in the hangar at Beale. He can also be seen below seated at the far left during the briefing (his father, played by Austin Stowell, is on the right).

pilot briefing from Bridge of Spies

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