PG Score: 7/10
The Courier was released in theaters on 3/19/21
The Courier is a steady, sophisticated spy thriller that hinges on fine performances and intriguing historical groundwork. Opting for authenticity over flash, Director Dominic Cooke’s (The Hollow Crown) newest venture may lack the excitement of other films in its genre, but the final product is satisfying, nonetheless.
The plot takes place during the Cold War and finds British salesman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) embroiled in the dangerous world of international espionage. Together with Soviet Union foreign intelligence official Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), he works with MI6 and the CIA to stop the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The basis for the movie is fascinating and (with few exceptions) does not embellish or fabricate actual events. The fact that it is an ordinary citizen who gets roped into functioning as a liaison between British intelligence and a Russian spy makes the premise even more compelling. The decision to refrain from sensationalizing the incredible true story proves to be a wise one for the most part.
Cooke attacks the rich source material with strategic aim and admirable discipline. It would have been easy to run wild with creative license and give the real-life occurrences a James Bond makeover. Had he chosen to go in that direction, then audiences would likely have been treated to more explosive cinema. However, that route would almost certainly mean the loss of several integral components that make the movie a well-oiled machine. The tension present throughout the 112-minute runtime is heightened by its realistic feel and serves as proof that well-executed suspense can bring viewers to the edge of their seats just as easily as punchy shootouts and high-speed car chases.
A Few Dull Moments
The main obstacle the film runs into is keeping the audience engaged. On more than one occasion, the rising intensity seems to peak but fizzles out before achieving maximum impact. Thankfully, these setbacks are always short-lived as The Courier has a knack for regaining its footing quickly. Furthermore, it is imperative to note that for every instance the intended effect strays wide of the mark, there are two more that hit dead on.
Once again, Benedict Cumberbatch is in top form as the unassuming Greville Wynne. The Oscar-nominated actor proficiently exhibits the thought process, mannerisms, and relatability of the “normal until he is not” businessman. He also manages to expertly capture the transformation and ensuing internal struggles that surface because of his character’s dealings with covert government operations. According to various accounts regarding Wynne, Cumberbatch’s portrayal appears to be spot on. As expected, the seasoned performer shoulders the bulk of the acting load and carries the film to new heights.
He is backed by Merab Ninidze, who provides the standout supporting performance with his depiction of Oleg Penkovsky. He displays the tormented Soviet agent’s conviction, fear, and inner conflict with exceptional skill. Oleg shows spurts of joviality in his interactions with Cumberbatch’s Greville but these moments are fleeting as he is mostly solemn throughout The Courier. His gloomy demeanor and weighing of morals over loyalty to a dysfunctional regime is a microcosm for the Eastern Bloc at the time. This adds another layer of depth to both the character and the movie.
Golden Globe-winner Rachel Brosnahan plays the fictional CIA agent Emily Donovan (based on a composite of several real-life people) and injects a healthy dose of energy to the cast. Her exchanges with Cumberbatch’s Wynne are arguably the dramatic highlights of the film. She is joined by Jessie Buckley as Greville’s wife, Sheila. The talented actress showcases her impressive range through her ability to convey both comedic relief and affecting drama.
While it may not be in the most groundbreaking or exhilarating fashion, The Courier still delivers the goods.