Home / Global Connections Update / Fall 2015 VOL. 1, NO. 3


Bridge of Spies

Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies Brings a Real Cold War Drama Back to Life

Making history seem both compelling and relevant to today’s world can sometimes be a challenging task, but three-time Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg continues to return to history for many of his films. In his latest film, Bridge of Spies, Spielberg brings the tension of the Cold War to a new generation of students and movie-goers alike.

Bridge of Spies is based on the true story of James Donovan, an insurance claims lawyer from Brooklyn who was thrust into the center of the Cold War when the CIA and FBI enlisted his support to negotiate the release of captured American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. Tom Hanks stars as Donovan, bringing an “everyman” quality that was necessary to the portrayal of this character.

Donovan was recruited by the U.S. government to represent Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy arrested in New York, and the two developed a bond based on mutual respect and understanding. When Powers’ plane was shot down in the Soviet Union a short time later, Powers was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. It became Donovan’s job to coordinate the exchange of prisoners between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Bridge of Spies has a star-studded cast and crew. Tom Hanks is joined on screen by Tony Award and Olivier Award winner Mark Rylance, Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan, and Emmy Award winner Alan Alda. Spielberg produced the film along with Golden Globe winner Marc Platt (Into the Woods, Legally Blonde) and Kristie Macosko Krieger (Lincoln, War Horse). The screenplay was written by Matt Charman and Oscar winners Ethan & Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis, Fargo, The Big Lebowski).

Using Film as a Springboard for Classroom Discussion

The story told in Bridge of Spies is an example of truth being even more interesting than fiction. Because the film is based on real events, it is not only entertaining but informative. A complimentary discussion guide is available for college instructors and students to download and use in a variety of college courses.

The Cold War was a significant period not only for the United States and the Soviet Union; it also created fundamental changes in internationals relations as a whole. College courses in U.S. history, international relations, foreign policy, and other subjects can use Bridge of Spies as a springboard for discussing the Cold War and its impact. The discussion guide covers the following topics:

  • How the Cold War began
  • The U-2 spy plane program
  • James Donovan’s role
  • Rudolf Abel’s trial
  • The Berlin Wall as a symbol
  • How the Cold War continues to impact life today

Download your free copy of the Bridge of Spies discussion guide here.