October 15, 2015 6:09 AM EDT

Like a gray flannel suit in a hall of mirrors, Steven Spielberg’s taut, assured thriller Bridge of Spies takes a grownup approach to an enthralling, true-life espionage tale. James Donovan isn’t a spy; he’s a decent everyman. In other words, Tom Hanks, in a deceptively wry turn. A stolid Brooklyn insurance lawyer, Donovan is chosen in 1957 by the U.S. government to defend captured Soviet mole Rudolf Abel (a soulful Mark Rylance). Abel is imprisoned but becomes useful years later when Air Force U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers is shot down over the Soviet Union while taking intelligence photographs. Donovan heads to East Germany to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers, winding up at the Glienicke Bridge, where secret East-West pass-offs occurred.

This covertly brawny film, with a script by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen, has plot points that click like pegs under Spielberg’s tight direction. In his fourth pairing with Hanks, Spielberg again examines the furtive face of justice and issues another masterful ruling.

–JOE NEUMAIER

This appears in the October 26, 2015 issue of TIME.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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