At this point, the film is barely at its halfway mark, as Spielberg has been intercutting with scenes of the training of spy plane pilot Gary Powers. When his aircraft is shot down over Russia, Donovan is pulled back in as a negotiator in the trade of Powers for Abel The courtroom is exchanged for the backroom as Donovan goes back and forth between people claiming to be Abel's family, Kremlin officials, and East German apparatchiks, all while navigating a Berlin that is being physically cut in two by the newly constructed Berlin Wall.
For a film about subterfuge and gray zones, the first thing to come through is how fundamentally decent Donovan is. It's reinforced at every opportunity. The soft lighting and warm atmosphere at his family dinner table (where poor Amy Ryan is wasted in supportive wife mode) is straight out of Rockwell. He's Abel's only advocate, despite his unquestioned guilt. His unwavering humanism continues in Berlin, when the exchange for Powers is complicated by the abduction of a college student whose life the CIA values far less than the information in Powers' head. This flawless specimen won't even be tainted by luxury, as he is forced to stay in a spartan, unheated East German hovel while the CIA officials stay in a ritzy hotel. Hanks is one of the few actors who can play a character with this amount of moral uprightness and keep them from being insufferable. His Donovan is one-note but because of Hanks' charisma, he's never boring.
Rylance's Abel, on the other hand, is a character that surprises. His competence is made clear in that bravura opening sequence, where he outwits his FBI tails with nothing but his appearance as a frail older man. In custody for the rest of the film, his back and forth with Donovan is continuously interesting, someone just as upright but on a different side. These kind of man-to-man conversations are Bridge of Spies' bread and butter, as Hanks eventually meets his match in a Soviet counterpart. In these scenes, and the brief opening that suggests Spielberg should add a proper spy film to his repertoire, Bridge of Spies is a respectable, mature outing from the master of the popcorn blockbuster. There remains an unshakable sense that Spielberg is lowballing this story with elevated stakes and altered history for easy dramatic tension, but as far as movies to watch with one's grandparents, Bridge of Spies will do. B-