Thinking of taking the kids to see Bridge of Spies (PG-13)?

If you haven’t heard much about it, here’s the basic plot, which is based on actual events during a critical moment in our national history:

  • Set at the height of the Cold War with Russia, beginning in 1957, an attorney named James Donovan (played perfectly, as usual, by Tom Hanks) is assigned to defend a Soviet spy named Rudolf Abel.
  • In a parallel story, American pilot Francis Gary Powers is recruited to fly spy missions high over the Soviet Union (now Russia).
  • Abel is convicted and sent to prison and, a couple of years later, Powers is shot out of the sky and captured by the Soviets.
  • The U.S. government recruits the lawyer played by Tom Hanks to arrange a prisoner swap: Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers—to much suspense and intrigue.

I shouldn’t say any more, or I’ll give too much away. Needless to say, given Spielberg’s prodigious directing chops, it is a masterfully told tale. The attention to late 1950s and early ’60s period detail, both here and in postwar Germany, is fantastic to behold. And the acting is uniformly outstanding. Watch the trailer:

The PG-13 rating keeps the violence and language to a minimum, but there is some swearing and the interrogation scenes are short but intense. The most harrowing sequence is when the American spy plane is shot out of the sky, though of course the pilot survives.

The film is well crafted and carefully paced, so it should be fairly easy for middle school kids and older to follow and understand the story. However, as the plot thickens in the second half, some basic information about the aftermath of World War II, the division of Germany into East and West and the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Soviet Union, would enhance their understanding—unless they’ve already studied that in school, of course.

For some brisk background on Cold War basics, you can have your kids view this 12-minute video by John Green, part of his famous “Crash Course” on YouTube:

For a more focused background just on the famous Berlin Wall—which plays a pivotal role in the film—the History Channel has a short post and video you can share with your kids.

Even if your son or daughter isn’t a history buff, this movie is such a compelling, inspiring piece of film-making, it could turn them on to the importance of understanding our past and how it affects our present. It’s also a powerful lesson in how standing up for the idea of America, as embodied in our Constitution and through the role played by Tom Hanks, can take great courage and fortitude.

Two thumbs up, Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Hanks!

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