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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

When good writing meets good acting


DONOVAN:  Yeah, then do not talk to anyone else about your case. Inside of government or out. Except to me - to the extent that you trust me. I have a mandate to serve you. Nobody else does. Quite frankly, everybody else has an interest in sending you to the electric chair. ABEL:  All right. DONOVAN:  You don’t seem alarmed. ABEL:  *Abel shrugs.* Would it help?


ABEL: Well...The boss isn’t always right but he’s always the boss. DONOVAN:  Do you never worry? ABEL: *Abel shrugs.* Would it help?In the second scene, Donovan and Abel are at the trial. It's not looking good for Abel and both characters know it. They're making casual conversation in a restrained way - both men are proud, determined and level-headed, so they're not going to descend into a shirt-rending, screaming match at the judge. This is their way of processing the bad news. Again, we see the reoccurring disbelief in Donovan as he realizes that Abel is still unmoved from his cause. Abel has just learned that his Russain handlers are denying him not only has their spy but as a Russian citizen - despite all he's done for them. Donovan can't understand the passivity. Here, Abel's 'Would it help?' is firmer than the first time. This isn't a question or a way of shrugging off Donovan's concern. Here, though it's phrased as a question, it's actually a statement. Abel is saying 'it wouldn't help to get upset'.


DONOVAN: But will they -- Rudolf -- is there not the possibility - ABEL : That my people are going to shoot me? DONOVAN:  Well...yes. You’re not worried? ABEL: Would it help?In the third and last scene, in the emotional climax of the movie, Donovan and Abel are walking towards the Russians in a covert spy swap. This should be a moment of success - at least if you're on the side of Abel - who's getting back to his people.

Abel and Donovan Perhaps the biggest reason why I love these exchanges is the relationship it demonstrates between Abel and Donovan. Donovan is an American lawyer who's fighting to see justice done. He doesn't agree with Abel, a traitor and spy, but he believes everyone is entitled to representation. The movie is shown through his point of view and you see his fights, his struggles and his passions. He is a very active character. And what happens when you throw an active character up against a passive one? Abel is mostly shown sitting around, painting, reading, writing. He seems completely unconcerned at his trial, his possible execution and the betrayal by his Russian handlers. Like most fanatics, he seems indelibly committed to his cause and his unerring loyalty turns him into a pillar of surety - one that Donovan repeatedly collides with when he can't understand by Abel is so passive. It makes the relationship fascinating to watch on screen. This is amazing writing and Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance sell it with their acting. Bridge of Spies is perhaps one of my favourite movies out there and well worth the watch if you're looking for examples of master character building. If you want to skip through, the second 'would it help' starts at 1:35 and the last at 2:07.

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