Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are perfect in Steven Spielberg’s slippery, fact-based Cold War thriller.
Radiating his customary decency, Hanks plays James B Donovan, a Brooklyn insurance lawyer who becomes the unlikely hero of a US-Russian prisoner swap at the height of the Cold War, and Rylance is Rudolf Abel, the phlegmatic Soviet spy at the heart of the deal.
This is a fascinating tale and Spielberg, working from a script by British screenwriter Matt Charman with assistance from the Coen Brothers, puts it up on screen with his customary craft.
He ensures that the story’s spy games consistently hold our attention – from the wordless opening sequence in which Abel retrieves a secret message from a hollow nickel hidden on a New York park bench to the later scenes in wintry Berlin in which Donovan feints and shimmies his way through cloak-and-dagger encounters with spooks from both sides of the Iron Curtain.
There’s no edge-of-seat suspense that marks the greatest spy movies, but this is nevertheless thoroughly engrossing, mainly thanks to the engaging stars.
Hanks simultaneously projects moral integrity and wily guile, while Rylance is watchful, wary and inscrutably intelligent. He also gets the film’s best, most drily humorous lines, including a droll refrain we could all adopt in these anxious times. Asked by Donovan if he isn’t worried, dire peril staring him in the face on several occasions, his deadpan reply is always the same. ‘Would it help?’