As good-hearted and perseverant lawyer James Donovan in Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks has a scene where he inexplicably orders two breakfasts in a German hotel.
His earnest attorney doesn’t get to eat either of them — thus how days go for an embattled guy caught between sides of the Cold War — but the idea of a meal is fitting when talking about director Steven Spielberg’s latest historical drama (*** out of four; rated PG-13; opens Friday nationwide). It’s the very definition of meat and potatoes: While not phenomenal, especially compared to the rest of the Spielberg oeuvre, Spies still hits the spot.
Spielberg and Hanks team for the fourth time with Spies, which is inspired by the real-life events that took place during the post-World War II paranoia of the 1950s and early ’60s.
Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a quiet, older Brooklyn man, is arrested for being a Soviet spy, and the CIA recruits Donovan to defend him in a court of law. Donovan — a reputable New York insurance lawyer who assisted in the 1945 Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals — takes the case, though his wife (Amy Ryan) and law partner (Alan Alda) strongly discourage it.
No wonder, since he becomes as much an infamous celebrity as his calm client. Spielberg strongly sets the story in the mood of the time, where anything involving Russia bristled the populace — Donovan rides the subway to work, and with his face on the front page of everyone’s newspaper, he has nowhere to look without getting the stink eye from fellow commuters.