Bridge of Spies (film)

Bridge of Spies

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by
Written by
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Janusz Kamiński
Edited by Michael Kahn
Distributed by
Release dates
  • October 4, 2015 (2015-10-04) (New York Film Festival)
  • October 16, 2015 (2015-10-16) (United States)
  • November 26, 2015 (2015-11-26) (Germany)
Running time
141 minutes[2][3]
  • United States
  • Germany
Language English
Budget $40 million[4]
Box office $165.5 million[5]

Bridge of Spies is a 2015 historical drama legal thriller film directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, written by Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen and stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan and Alan Alda. Based on the 1960 U-2 incident during the Cold War, the film tells the story of lawyer James B. Donovan, who is entrusted with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers—a pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union—in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a captive and convicted Soviet KGB spy held under the custody of the United States, whom he represented at trial. The name of the film refers to the Glienicke Bridge, which connects Potsdam with Berlin, where the spy exchange took place.[upper-alpha 1] This film was internationally co-produced by the United States and Germany.[7]

Bridge of Spies was shot under the working title of St. James Place. Principal photography began on September 8, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York City, and the production proceeded at Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam. The film was released by Touchstone Pictures on October 16, 2015, in North America and distributed by 20th Century Fox in other territories.[8] It was a box office success, grossing $165.5 million worldwide and received critical acclaim, garnering praise for its direction, screenplay, acting, score, and production merits. The film received six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and won Best Supporting Actor for Rylance.


In 1957 Brooklyn, New York, Rudolf Abel is arrested by the FBI and charged with three counts of spying for the Soviet Union. He refuses to collaborate in exchange for the charges being dropped. As a Russian spy, no one is inclined to represent Abel so James B. Donovan, an insurance lawyer, is finally prevailed upon to defend him so that trial will be seen as fair. Donovan declines to help CIA garner information from his client and mounts the best legal defense he can. Abel is convicted on all counts, and Donovan asks the judge to spare him the death penalty because he was honorably serving his country and he might prove useful for a future prisoner exchange. Abel is sentenced to 30 years, and Donovan appeals the conviction to the Supreme Court since there was no search warrant for the seizure of Abel’s ciphers and photography equipment, but the conviction is upheld. Donovan’s principled stand results in him and his family being harassed, including a drive-by shooting of their home.

Meanwhile, operating from a military airbase in Peshawar, Pakistan, Gary Powers, a pilot in the CIA's top secret U-2 spy plane program, is shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over the USSR. As the plane drops, he is unable to trigger the plane's self-destruct before he is thrown clear and parachutes to safety. Instead of committing suicide as instructed, he is captured and sentenced in a show trial to ten years confinement, with three years in prison.

Donovan receives an aerogram from East Germany purportedly from Abel's wife thanking him and urging him to get in contact with their lawyer Vogel. The CIA think this is a back-channel message indicating that the USSR is willing to swap Powers for Abel. They ask Donovan to go in an unofficial and unsupported capacity to Berlin to negotiate the exchange, and he arrives just as The Wall is going up. Using the S-bahn he crosses into East Berlin and negotiates a deal with a KGB officer in the Soviet Embassy. He is then directed to Vogel, who represents the German Democratic Republic's Attorney General - who seeks to exchange a US grad student named Pryor, whom they have arrested, for Abel and official recognition of the GDR by the US. The CIA tells Donovan to forget about Pryor but he stands firm. He sends a message to the Attorney General bluffing that they will either release Pryor or there will be no deal. The exchange of Abel and Powers then proceeds on Glienicke Bridge. When the GDR doesn't release Pryor at Checkpoint Charlie as agreed, Donovan and Abel briefly delay the exchange until he arrives. The next day, back in the US, the Government publicly acknowledges Donovan for negotiating the deal, helping to recoup his public image. As the end coda rolls, the audience also learns of Donovan's involvement in Cuba following the Bay of Pigs fiasco.




Bridge of Spies is an American-German co-production based on a script written by the Coen Brothers and Matt Charman.[9][10] Studio Babelsberg co-produced and oversaw production services for the film.[11] James Donovan wrote an account of the incident in 1964 under the title Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel and Francis Gary Powers.[12] The historical background to the U-2 incident and the story of former West Berlin CIA chief William King Harvey and Operation Gold was published in Rory MacLean's Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries (2014).[13] Soviet intelligence officer Rudolf Abel, who lived and operated in Brooklyn Heights, did dead drops of stolen documents in Prospect Park. His arrest and history were discussed by Truman Capote, another Heights resident at the time, in his book A House on the Heights.

Matt Charman became interested in Donovan's story after reading a footnote about him in An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963.[14] After meeting with Donovan's son in New York City, Charman pitched the story to several studios and DreamWorks bought it. Studio co-founder Steven Spielberg became interested in the film and decided to direct.[15] Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger attached themselves as producers along with Spielberg. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen revised Matt Charman's original script.[16] According to Charman, the brothers "were able to really punch up the negotiations on the back end of the movie, then they handed the baton back to me to do a pass after they did their pass, to make the movie just sit in a place we all wanted it to. The flavor they brought is so fun and enjoyable. It needed to be entertaining but truthful."[14]

In May 2014, it was announced that Tom Hanks would star as James Donovan, with Mark Rylance co-starring as Abel. Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Billy Magnussen, and Eve Hewson were reported to star in the film as well.[17][18] Participant Media co-produced the film.[19] Francis Gary Powers, Jr., founder of The Cold War Museum and the pilot's son, was brought on as a technical consultant and has a cameo in the film.

In June 2014, Fox 2000 Pictures agreed to co-finance the film with DreamWorks and Participant Media, with the film's distribution rights being divided between Disney and Fox.[20] During a March 3, 2015, interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Platt revealed the title to be Bridge of Spies; it was shot under the working title of St. James Place.[21] The film also received funds of €3.7 million, from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF).[22]


Principal photography began on September 8, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York City.[23] On September 14, filming took place in DUMBO, a Brooklyn neighborhood, where crews transformed Anchorage Street to appear as it did in the 1960s.[24][25] On September 15, filming took place in Astoria, between Astoria Park and Ditmars Boulevard. Filming was done on 18 Street and 26 Avenue in Astoria, where Spielberg was spotted transforming the 5 Corners Deli into a 1950s grocery store.[26][27][28] On September 26, filming took place on 44th Street in Manhattan, as evidenced by crews stationed on 44th Street, between Madison and 6th Avenues. On September 27, Hanks was spotted filming scenes on Wall Street among extras wearing 1960s costumes.[29] On September 28, filming of some day and night scenes took place on the corner of Henry Street and Love Lane in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, where the block was set with vintage cars, street signs, rain machines, and spotlights.[30] On September 29, filming took place on Hicks Street and Pineapple Street, where a shop, Perfect Paws, was transformed into a 1960s dress shop named Brooklyn Pearl,[31] and at the NYS Appellate Division courthouse on Monroe Place and Pierrepont Street. On October 6, Hanks and the crew were spotted on the same location on Hicks Street.[32]

In early October, after filming wrapped in New York City, further production began at Babelsberg Studios in Berlin and Potsdam, Germany, and would last there through the end of November.[33][34] Filming in Berlin began with shooting at the former Tempelhof Airport in October, for scenes that actually took place there, such as Donovan's descending from an historic C-54 Skymaster.[35] A prisoner exchange scene was filmed on the Glienicke Bridge (the so-called "Bridge of Spies"), where the historical exchange actually took place in 1962.[36][37] The bridge spans the Havel narrows between Berlin and Potsdam, and was closed to traffic for filming over the last weekend of November.[38][39] German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the set to watch the filming of these scenes.[40] Principal photography officially ended on December 4, at Berlin Tempelhof. Shooting also took place in Wrocław, Poland, in the second half of November.[33][41] During mid-December, filming took place at Beale Air Force Base, located near Marysville, California.[42] The film was shot on 35mm motion picture film, including Kodak Vision3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 and Vision3 500T Color Negative Film 5219.[43]

Historical accuracy

Bridge of Spies is based on the real-life events. The film, however, departs from the historical record, though reviewers have praised the film and argued that such departures are permissible.[44] Commentators have noted that the shortening of timespans in the film at times gives a misleading impression.[45][46] One key example is the depiction of the Berlin Wall. Donovan did not see Berlin wall escapees being shot; the shootings most similar to the ones depicted were those associated with the killing of Peter Fechter that happened the summer after the Powers/Abel exchange on the Glienicke Bridge.[45][46][47] Similarly, the circumstances of Frederic Pryor's detention were not accurately portrayed – he could not have crossed a partially built wall,[46][47] and further, was convicted of obtaining "confidential" material.[45]

Apart from the depiction of the Wall, it is notable that Donovan did not suffer quite the extent of violence depicted: he was not shot at in his home,[45][46] and he did not have his overcoat stolen.[45] The film also changed the location of Donovan's suggestion to the judge to spare Abel for the sake of a possible future exchange, which was in fact made in open court.[44][46]

Abel, an English-born Soviet intelligence officer (whose real name was William G. Fisher) most likely did his best work for the Soviet Union not as a spy in a dishevelled New York City lair full of radio gear, but before and during World War II, when he trained agents and radio operators for clandestine work in German-occupied regions. This training is thought to have been critical to what his mentor, Pavel Sudoplatov, later called one of the most important radio deception operations of the war.[48]

Frederic Pryor stated in an interview that various details of the plot related to his involvement were incorrect. He did not cross the Berlin wall during its construction, as he was on vacation in Denmark at the time. He was detained after his return, when he crossed into East Berlin to visit a friend's sister; she had fled to West Berlin using "some sort of passport manipulation", and her apartment was under surveillance to catch anyone attempting to retrieve its contents.[49] Pryor also stated that the film's depiction of Wolfgang Vogel was unfair.[49]


The theatrical poster for the film was released on June 4, 2015,[50] with the first trailer appearing online the following day.[51] It was distributed in North America by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, through the Touchstone Pictures banner.[52][53] Disney held the film's world premiere on October 4, 2015[54] at the 53rd annual New York Film Festival.[55][56] The film went into general theatrical release in the United States on October 16, 2015.[57] 20th Century Fox distributed the film in the remaining international territories.[52]

Home media

The film was released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download in North America on February 2, 2016 and by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in other territories.


Box office

Bridge of Spies grossed $72.3 million in North America and $93.3 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $165.6 million, against a budget of $40 million.[5] In the United States and Canada, pre-release tracking predicted Bridge of Spies to open to around $15–20 million from 2,811 theaters.[58][59] The film opened alongside Goosebumps, Crimson Peak, and Woodlawn on October 16, 2015, and also faced competition from The Martian, which was entering its third week.[60] The film made $500,000 from its early Thursday night showings and $5.3 million on its opening day.[61][62] In its opening weekend, the film grossed $15.4 million, finishing third at the box office behind Goosebumps ($23.5 million) and The Martian ($21.5 million).[63] Its biggest international markets have been Australia and South Korea, where it made $1.3 million and $922,936 respectively on its opening weekend.[5]

Critical reception

Bridge of Spies received positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 91%, based on 262 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Bridge of Spies finds new life in Hollywood's classic Cold War espionage thriller formula, thanks to reliably outstanding work from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks".[64] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 81 out of 100, based on 48 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[65] On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[63]

Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun Times gave the film four out of four stars, and praised Spielberg's direction, saying: "Spielberg has taken an important but largely forgotten and hardly action-packed slice of the Cold War and turned it into a gripping character study and thriller that feels a bit like a John Le Carre adaptation if Frank Capra were at the controls".[66] Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called the film a "a confident, slightly square, highly satisfying example of old-school Hollywood craftsmanship, starring a major movie star brandishing a briefcase, and a handkerchief, rather than a pistol".[67] The A.V. Club's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky described it as "one of the most handsome movies of Spielberg's latter-day phase, and possibly the most eloquent [...] Bridge of Spies turns a secret prisoner exchange between the CIA and the KGB into a tense and often disarmingly funny cat-and-mouse game".[68]

On the other hand, Mike Scott of New Orleans Times-Picayune, had a more mixed reaction, saying: "Bridge of Spies, with its stop-and-go momentum, is also more merely interesting than it is full-on riveting. It's still quite good stuff, but despite its impressive pedigree... it doesn't feel as if it's quite the sum of all of its parts".[69] Preston Jones of Fort Worth Star-Telegram gave the film 2 and a half stars out of five. Jones wrote that "For all Spielberg, his star-packed cast, led by Tom Hanks, and his on-screen and off-screen team (Joel and Ethan Coen co-wrote the screenplay) bring to the table, Bridge of Spies is remarkable only for how stuffy and surprisingly inert the film becomes".[70]



Bridge of Spies
Film score by Thomas Newman
Released October 16, 2015 (2015-10-16)
Studio Newman Scoring Stage, Los Angeles
Genre Soundtrack
Length 48:25
Label Hollywood
Thomas Newman chronology
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Bridge of Spies

Frequent Spielberg collaborator John Williams was originally announced to compose the film's score. However, Williams had to drop out of production due to a health issue.[52] Per a suggestion by Williams, Thomas Newman was then contacted by Spielberg to replace Williams, marking Spielberg's first film without Williams' music since 1985's The Color Purple, which was scored by Quincy Jones.[71] Hollywood Records released the film's soundtrack on October 16, 2015.[72]

All music composed by Thomas Newman.

No. Title Length
1. "Hall of Trade Unions, Moscow"   0:43
2. "Sunlit Silence"   4:04
3. "Ejection Protocol"   1:56
4. "Standing Man"   2:11
5. "Rain"   1:21
6. "Lt. Francis Gary Powers"   3:04
7. "The Article"   1:36
8. "The Wall"   2:14
9. "Private Citizen"   1:35
10. "The Impatient Plan"   1:35
11. "West Berlin"   1:12
12. "Friedrichstrasse Station"   1:20
13. "Glienicke Bridge"   10:51
14. "Homecoming"   7:46
15. "Bridge of Spies (End Title)"    
Total length:

See also



  1. A central event is the arrest and trial of US spy pilot Gary Powers, who was shot down by Soviet forces when flying over the Russian city of Sverdlovsk in 1960.[6]


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