The UK has a monopoly on the kind of stiff-upper-lip-MI6 spy thriller genre that occasionally delivers an ice-cold classic like ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’. With a name like Benedict Cumberbatch involved, I was interested to see how the real life story of ‘The Courier’ would turn out.
Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) an ordinary salesman, gets recruited by MI6 and the CIA. Both intelligence agencies are trying to help Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) defect, in exchange for valuable information about the plans of President Khrushchev. As the tensions around the nuclear missile crisis in Cuba rise, these two men play an intricate part in saving the world from disaster.
If you like talking heads then you’ll absolutely adore this film, because for the most part that’s all you get. Shady conversations, hushed secrets and vague hints towards the terrible things that may come when good men do nothing. It’s all extremely boring to be honest. Nowhere in its first hour is there a sense of urgency to the story. Wynne goes back and forth between Russia and London as trade conversations are set up to mask his dealings with the Russian defector Penkovsky. That’s pretty much it.
Only in the latter half of the film, when Russian officials get wind of the traitor in their midst, do things speed up a bit. The segment around getting Penkovsky safely across the border provides some desperately needed tension, but it’s over before you can say “Da comrade”.
It’s almost painful to see Cumberbatch, Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan and Jessie Buckley give it their all. All of them deliver more than solid work and are this film’s saving grace in more ways than one. Cumberbatch even throws in a Christian Bale-like metamorphosis near the end that more than proves his dedication to the character.
‘The Courier’ wants to count itself among the Cold War spy thriller greats, but forgets to inject some life into the proceedings, making this spy thriller a well-acted but rather dull affair.
Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions will release THE COURIER wide in theaters on March 19th, 2021
Review – ‘The Courier’
Reviewed online (screener provided by Roadside Attractions), March 7, 2021. Rating: M. Running time: 111 min.
PRODUCTION: (USA) A Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions release of a 42, FilmNation Entertainment, SunnyMarch production. Producers: Adam Ackland, Rory Aitken, Ben Browning, Ben Pugh. Executive producers: Glen Basner, Leah Clarke, Alison Cohen, Dominic Cooke, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ashley Fox, Tom O’Connor, Milan Popelka, Josh Varney.
CREW: Director: Dominic Cooke. Screenplay: Tom O’Connor. Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt. Editing: Tariq Anwar, Gareth C. Scales. Music: Abel Korzeniowski.
CAST: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jessie Buckley, Rachel Brosnahan, Vladimir Chuprikov, Merab Ninidze, James Schofield, Anton Lesser, Angus Wright, Kirill Pirogov, Petr Klimes.