BRIDGE OF SPIES: 12 Things to Know about Steven Spielberg’s Cold War Epic

     June 5, 2015

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Now that you’ve had a chance to watch first trailer for Steven Spielberg‘s Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies, we’ve got a little insight into what you should know about the latest historical epic from one of our generations greatest living filmmakers. Spielberg’s track record with cerebral historical dramas is stunning, from Schindler’s List to Lincoln, Spielberg understands how to turn the annals of history into compelling cinema.

From a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, and Matt Charman, the film stars Tom Hanks as Brooklyn family man and Insurance claims litigator thrust into the thick of Cold War politics when the CIA recruits him to negotiate with the Soviets for the release of an American spy pilot. Check out the 12 things to know about Bridge of Spies below, and click here to catch up on all our recent coverage.

  • Set in the early stages of the Cold War, Bridge of Spies is inspired by the true-life story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), a family man and insurance lawyer hired by the US government to defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).While Donovan was reluctant to accept the case, fearing becoming a public figure and potential target in the nation’s height of paranoia and fear, he eventually agreed to represent Able out of a commitment to his principles of justice and the protection of human rights. During the trial, Donovan and Abel developed an unexpected bond based on their mutual respect for each other’s strength and commitment to their ideals.

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    Image via DreamWorks/Fox2000

    Some time later, the government calls on Donovan again when an American spy pilot is shot down over Soviet airspace and taken prisoner. Impressed by Donovan’s courtroom skills and determination in the Abel case, CIA operative Hoffman (Scott Shepherd) recruits him for a secret national security mission that would see the trade of the two prisoners.

  • The film takes place during the height of the American Red scare when hysterical paranoia ruled the nation. Producer Marc Platt explains,  “These were the fevered years of the Cold War, and people still remembered the Rosenbergs, who’d been executed for espionage, a capital crime at the time of our story.” Spielberg adds, “It was a very dangerous time to be in the headlines for standing up for a spy.”
  • As evidenced by his track record of stunning historical films including Schindler’s List, Lincoln and Saving Private Ryan, director Steven Spielberg is a history buff. With Bridge of Spies he finally gets to tap into his fascination with the Cold War, an interest that dates back to his childhood, when he remembers the stories of his father and grandfather and the hostile distrust between the U.S. and Russia.
  • Spielberg’s father actually went on a foreign exchange to Russia as an engineer during the cold war, right after Francis Gary Powers was shot down, when there was tremendous fear and hostility between the two nations. Spielberg’s father recalled seeing Russian citizens line up to look at Powers’ crashed gear and “see what America did.” When they saw the American engineers, they pointed at them and said, “Look what your country is doing to us,” demonstrating the fear and rage the nations felt towards each other.

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    Image via DreamWorks/Fox2000

    While Spielberg was attracted to the history and the story itself, it was the character of James Donovan and his cinematic possibilities that most appealed to him. As a well-respected family man in the 1950s, Donovan demonstrated remarkable skill and strength of character by accepting the dangerous assignment and handing it with aplomb.

  • The English playwright and TV writer Matt Charman brought the story to executives at DreamWorks, who were immediately swept up in the tale of an uncelebrated, idealistic man navigating the dangerous world of subterfuge.
  • Once Charman’s draft was finished, three-time Academy Award-winners Joel and Ethan Coen were brought in to re-craft the script with their distinct narrative edge and sharp dialogue skills. Platt explains, “Matt did a fantastic job, and once he was finished, we brought his draft to the Coen brothers, who write with a tone that has a particular edge to it, and one which was perfect for this story…When it comes to writing character dialogue, there’s no one better than Joel and Ethan.”
  • Hanks, who read the script after it had passed through the Coens, describes the opportunity to work on Bridge of Spies as winning the lottery saying, “You read a red hot piece of material and not only do they want you for it already, Steven Spielberg wants you already. That’s like winning the Powerball.”
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    Image via DreamWorks/Fox2000

    As if the powerhouse triad of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and the Coen brothers isn’t enough to get you psyched up about the film, Bridge of Spies also has a stellar production team including director of photography, and regular Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski (War Horse, Saving Private Ryan), production designer Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel), costume designer Kasia Walika-Maimone (Moonrise Kingdom), editor Michael Kahn (Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Arc), and composer Thomas Newman (Wall-E, Skyfall).


  • This is the fifth collaboration for Hanks and Spielberg, who previously worked together on Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Says Spielberg, “I love the experience of working with Tom. He will try anything, and he’s got a thousand ideas and is open to a thousand ideas from other people. He’s this incredibly creative vessel that just wants to figure things out in a more original way.”
  • Principal photography on “Bridge of Spies” began in September, 2014 and shot for 12 weeks on locations in New York, Germany and Poland, including many of the very places where the events in the story actually took place. European production kicked off in Berlin where the actual prisoner exchange of Abel and Powers took place. To film the crucial Berlin Wall sequences, production also traveled to Wrolcaw, Poland which more accurately resembles the East Berlin of 1961 than Berlin itself.

Bridge of Spies arrives in theaters October 16, 2015.

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Image via DreamWorks/Fox2000

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