The Standing man

Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) meets with his client Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet agent arrested in the U.S. in DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 PIctures’ dramatic thriller BRIDGE OF SPIES, directed by Steven Spielberg.

The story of “Bridge of Spies”

“Bridge of Spies,” Steven Spielberg’s new Cold War thriller, tells the gripping story of New York corporate attorney James Donovan’s leap into the labyrinthine world of high-stakes diplomacy. In February 1962, Donovan walked into Communist East Berlin, with no official protection or credentials, to negotiate a prisoner exchange. He successfully arranged the swap of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel for U-2 spy pilot Francis Gary Powers and Yale student Frederic Pryor [1].

The ending text states that Rudolf Abel returned home and was never acknowledged as a spy. Francis Gary Powers died when his plane crashed in 1977. Frederic Pryor went on to become a professor at Swarthmore College. James B. Donovan was asked by President Kennedy to negotiate the release of 1000 prisoners from Cuba after the Bay of Pigs invasion. He would eventually get over 9000 men, women, and children released. [2]

I’m gonna stop with the number 1 and 2 here, because with that you already understand this 2-hour-long film is about, and there are only two outcomes for this kind, you either shut it down 5 minutes into the film, or you would watch it, read every single thing relating to the “events” the film was inspired by and along the way, learn something new, something that will be completely useless.

I don’t belong to any of these two types.

All movies “inspired by true events”, you must know by now that the word “inspired” is euphemism of “we use it as a tagline to get you to the cinema”. Most of the time the person depicted in the movie didn’t know it existed at all, or they were called upon by the film crew to somewhat a little chat to make a little bit change here and there, and if they refused to tell their stories differently, or refused to create a love triangle to make the movie sell more, they would get kick out. So much for inspiration. Don’t trust that tagline, until you read more on the details and draw your own conclusion.

Since it’s a movie it should be treated as a movie, not a documentary, so that all cinematic tricks would get their fair share of consideration; as well as the actors in it.

The Standing Man

Tom Hanks played the role of lawyer James. B. Donovan, who was a remarkable figure both in terms of talent and his goodwill. I will not argue about Hank’s remarkable performance and very well-delivered his character, he has proved after all these years he deserves all the compliments people shower him, and he continue to choose difficult, challenged scripts to prove his acting ability is developing by each coming year.

“The standing man”, as his client Rudolf Abel has referred to him, “стойкий мужик”, was the story about a man no matter how hard, how many times he was beaten, he kept standing up again. Just like Donovan, he understood that taking the case of defending a spy – a public enemy, he placed himself and his family under fire. But to what extent should a man – as in human being – turn a blind eye when he was facing with something his principles would not allow to happen.

In this particular case, he could not accept the fact that he was only chosen to play a role of a puppet – his pride of a lawyer would not allow that, his conscious of a human would not say yes to that to make it easier on him. The ability to keep standing, when everyone else tells you to step down, to play your part, to follow orders while it clearly contradicts your own principles, makes a man – man.

Mark Rylance, who played the allegedly Russian spy Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, before this movie I have never heard of his name. In my defense, he is more active on stage, his presence on-screen has been scarce and some of his works were TV series of cameo, or small roles.

Rudolf Abel – the cultured and philosophical Soviet spy, played by Rylance was an exceptional and impressive character. In a world where people constantly try to voice our their opinions, as if others might die if they don’t listen to it, a man with few words stands out among the crowd. Maybe because he was a trained spy so of course there wasn’t much to scare him or make him lose his composure, but still, to be able to keep calm under any situation is no doubt an awesome ability. His constant answer, whenever his lawyer asked why he wasn’t worried, was: “Would it help?”, much as many of his responses were incredibly insightful:

“Mr. Donovan, you have men like me doing the same for your country. If they were caught, I’m sure you’d wish them to be treated well.”

James Donovan: You don’t seem alarmed . Aren’t you worried? Do you never worry?

Rudolf Abel: Would it help? (repeatedly, with a shrug)

James Donovan: The death sentence is not a foregone conclusion. Don’t worry.

Rudolf Abel: I’m not afraid to die, Mr. Donovan. Although, it wouldn’t be my first choice. 

“The boss isn’t always right.  But he’s always the boss.” 

“I acted honorably. I think they know that. But sometimes people think wrong. People are people.

People will talk more about Tom Hank’s delivery of the prestige lawyer, of Steven Spielberg’s directing skill, of the screenplay well-scripted by first Matt Charman and then edited by Coen brothers; but Mark Rylance’s performance stole the show. I would re-watch the movie again, just to see Mr. Rylance on-screen.

Another face which I recognized in this movie is Sebastian Koch –  Germany actor. He played a role of a writer who was under full surveillance of Stasi – Ministry of Culture (as they called themselves to justify bugging others’ houses, apartments, hearing people had sex and other stuff) in a drama “Das Leben der Anderen” – “The Lives of Others”.

Please if you haven’t seen it, please do. If you have heard the name of it somewhere but never quite feel like to watch it, please very much do. I hope that you would have a great time living through one of the grimmest eras of mankind and how people’ lives get crushed under all the powers, the ignorance, the bullshit government, the ugly nature of human’s vanity, envy, lust that was masked under “following rules”. But soon you will find no matter what, good is within us, and we always have the choice to step away from hurting others for our own benefits. But that a story for another day.

References and Further Reading



More on Mr. James B. Donovan, the “New York lawyer who pulled off one of the most famous spy swaps in history”, if you wish to learn more of this courageous, righteous and compassionate man.

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