Most historians will agree that the Cold War began in 1947 and ended in 1991, with the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
But comrades, don’t tell anyone in Hollywood. Because the terse military and political tension between the USSR and the USA makes for high-strung entertainment.
In Child 44 (in theaters Friday), adapted from the first installment of Tom Rob Smith’s book trilogy, Tom Hardy is investigating the suspicious death of a child in Stalinist USSR, where crime doesn’t officially exist because “murder is strictly a capitalist disease.”
In The Man From U.N.C.L.E., taking place in the 1960s (and opening Aug. 14), Armie Hammer is a KGB operative who partners with a CIA agent to quash a military organization.
Two months later (Oct. 16), Tom Hanks plays an American lawyer negotiating with the USSR in 1962 for the release of a captured American pilot in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies.
This summer, Gerard Butler starts production on the spy thriller Hunter Killer, about a crisis between the Russians and the USA that almost leads to war.
And, of course, there’s the acclaimed FX series The Americans, just renewed for a fourth season. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as a pair of undercover KGB agents working and living in ’80s Washington, making spies relevant — and sexy.
“This is a great period for films. Cool clothing, real villains. We can be romantic about this past since it’s outside the zone for so many in the moviegoing audience — they were born after 1980,” says Mitchell Block, a movie producer and University of Southern California film professor.
For Joel Kinnaman, who plays Hardy’s secret police nemesis in Child 44, immersing himself in that time period proved irresistible.
Soviet Union leader “(Joseph) Stalin created a society where the level of fear and paranoia was almost unparalleled in modern human history,” says Kinnaman. “The situations that families were presented with, you either give up your wife and have her killed or sent to a gulag (labor camp), or by not doing that, have your family sent away.
“If you were suspected of being pro-West, you’re already guilty. It’s a very disturbing climate. It’s a fascinating piece of history to revive.”
And oddly timely, given that relations with Russia have increasingly worsened, making the topic of the Cold War very prescient, says Americans co-creator Joel Fields.
“At the time the show launched, the relationship with Russia was much more peaceful,” he says. “It seemed like a good time to say that we have a lot in common.”
Global headlines aside, for the other Americans co-showrunner Joe Weisberg, “What makes it most compelling is the opportunity to explore, ‘What is an enemy?’ We’re telling a human story and we look at them as human beings with points of view. We don’t fall into the trap of making everything black and white. The enemy was very similar to us and that holds true today.”
Still, at the height of the Cold War, there were distinct lines between good and bad guys. Unlike today’s politics, which are full of nuance and compromise, people were seemingly on one side or the other.
“People were much more idealistic,” says Kinnaman. “There was so much covert activity going on, on both sides, with double agents. It was a much clearer divide: open society or closed society, these two very clear alternatives. You don’t have that anymore.”