James B. Donovan is chosen to represent Rudolf Abel, a man charged with treason for spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. However, contrary to what people expected of him, which was just throwing something out there for the sake of maintaining appearances, Donovan actually does his job to the best of his ability, even managing to avoid the death penalty for Abel on the basis of future use as a bargaining chip to use in case any US personnel are captured by the USSR. This opportunity comes to arise when Gary Powers, a U-2 pilot, is captured. Donovan thought that his involvement with the entire affair was over, however he is the one that the Soviet Union ends up contacting, and hence despite having no involvement, he is the one that ends up going to Berlin on behalf of the CIA to negotiate the trade.
The movie features two phases, the first is the court case, which is relatively short and acts like a sort of prologue, and the second is the actual negotiations and prisoner swap, which is the core of the film. The court case actually felt somewhat slow despite its length, however the rest moved very fast. It was a good look into the history surrounding the period, especially highlighting the differences and similarities between the USA and USSR, and it was also pretty interesting in terms of watching Donovan step up to the plate and do quite a bit more than was expected of him. Beyond that, though the plot was told reasonably well with some solid tension at points, overall it was a pretty standard flick through and through lacking any especially interesting characters or plot elements. The cinematography and soundtrack were decent.
A film that is a good historical timepiece relating to espionage during the Cold War, but isn’t all that interesting beyond that.