Bridge of Spies is based on the true story of James B. Donovan, who acted as the Official Unofficial U.S. Representative during Cold War negotiations between the U.S., East Germany, and the U.S.S.R. Donovan, if the movie is anything close to accurate, was the kind of man Tom Hanks was born to play: smart and determined, but most of all humble.
Donovan starts out as the pro-bono lawyer of Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance)—a man accused of being a Soviet spy. His law firm clearly expects Donovan to merely offer a perfunctory defense; privately, the judge asks him, "We all know he's guilty—why put up a fight?" But Donovan is convinced that the appearance of a working system needs to be matched with the actuality of a working system—and not only pursues an appeal for Abel on constitutional grounds, but convinces the judge to not condemn Abel to death.
There are moments throughout the film, like the one where Donovan argues against the death penalty for Abel, where the brilliance of Hanks's casting becomes clear. Donovan, all allegiances aside, thinks that Abel is simply following his government's orders, which Donovan considers to be an honorable action, no matter whose side you're on.
At the same time, Donovan knows that having a Soviet spy ripe for the trading would be a primo diplomatic advantage for the US. Hanks's genius is in taking two motivations—one pragmatic, and the other idealistic—and intertwining them with such sincerity that you really believe both halves. (That this is a result of our most American actor being directed by our most American director, the latter-day equivalent of Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart, is probably pretty telling.)
And when a ...1