In the depths of the cold war a Russian agent Rudolf Abel (actually a KGB colonel called Vilyam Fisher, though the movie does not reveal this), played by Mark Rylance, is arrested. The US bar council asks a prominent attorney called James Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), who made his name at the Nuremberg Trials but now works in Insurance, to take on the role of defending Abel – they want American justice to be seen to be done before Abel is inevitably convicted and possibly executed.
The story of Stasi agent Wiesler, who spies on a playwright Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend actress Christa-Maria Sieland, is a slow one. But one that does not get boring. The tension is built slowly and at times you keep wondering what all the fuss is really about – why does the Stasi care so much about these two people…?