Plot: In 1957, during the Cold War, the insurance lawyer James B. Donovan is assigned by the Bar association to defend in court the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, who was captured by the FBI. Donovan is successful and Rudolf is sentenced to life imprisonment instead of death penalty. Meanwhile the American pilot and spy Francis Gary Powers is arrested by the Soviet government while taking photos from a spy plane that crashed. The CIA summons Donovan to help in the negotiation to exchange the two spies. When Donovan learns that the American student Frederic Pryor was arrested in the border of East Berlin while trying to bring his German girlfriend to the West Berlin, he decides to include the student in the negotiation. However his proposal is not supported by the CIA that is interested in Powers only. Further, Powers is prisoner of the soviet government and Pryor is prisoner of the GDR (German Democratic Republic). Will Donovan succeed in his intent?
Alternative Plot: During the Cold War, the Soviet Union captures U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Powers' only hope is New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), recruited by a CIA operative to negotiate his release. Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man's freedom through a prisoner exchange. If all goes well, the Russians would get Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court.