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This is as old fashioned a film as it gets: a righteous lawyer, a cold war setting, generous production design and costumes to re-create late 1950s East Berlin. Even if you have not heard about the case of the Abel-Powell prisoner exchange, or forgot the details, you will never be in doubt how this will pan out or who the hero of the narrative will be.

But it does not matter: it is very entertaining to watch Tom Hanks become Jimmy Stewart, the good and clever man facing all the twists of politics and the adversities of being a negotiator left alone in the GDR (and without coat in the Berlin winter, that is no fun). It says that the Coen brothers wrote the script, but it appears to be standard Spielberg issue, the sardonic humour of the Coen universe is missing, so I am not sure what they contributed other than maybe the occasional East German bureaucratic outburst or the bunch of supposed family members conjured out of thin air.

What I found interesting in terms of plot was the conflict between the East Germans and their Soviet big brothers, and the handsome and serious face of Sebastian Koch as Attorney Vogel (after “Homeland”, second big international performance within the year), with Burkhart Klaussner adding the desired hysterical touches. It is those minor parts I found to provide the actual beauty to the film, with solid-as-ever Tom Hank’s performance merely serving as the foundation and key pillars. Soviet spy Abel is the most impressive of those: with a few comments he lays out the laconic fate of people of his profession: “Are you not worried?” – “Would it help?” He is the secret hero of this tale about rule of law, and patient diplomacy. Not quite “Tinker, Tailor … ”, but certainly plenty of spies.

On that note: “Deutschland 83” should make an interesting companion piece, let’s get started with that one…

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