The Courier review – a good true-life spy picture A parcel-time spy

March 15, 2021
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews
3.5

Summary

The Courier has everything you want in a Cold War spy thriller. It’s solidly paced and strikes a nice balance of suspense and moving human drama.

3.5

Summary

The Courier has everything you want in a Cold War spy thriller. It’s solidly paced and strikes a nice balance of suspense and moving human drama.

The Courier had a fair amount of buzz coming out of Sundance last year. Originally titled Iron Bark, it basically can be called Britain’s Bridge of Spies. It has everything you want in a Cold War spy thriller. It’s solidly paced and strikes a nice balance of suspense and moving human drama.

The Courier is based on a true story of a British businessman, Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), aka Ironbark, who was recruited by MI6 to help spy on the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He is convinced, a bit unwittingly, by an interdisciplinary relationship between a British agent (Angus Wright) and an American one (Rachel Brosnahan, seems to be cast in a film by her Marvelous Mrs. Maisel accent annually).

They want him to use his business contacts to expand into Russia to make contact with their mole, a high-ranking Soviet Intelligence Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a double agent, codenamed HERO.  Together, he and Wynne form an unlikely respect. Their friendship and professional relationship helped alert the British of the Soviets placing nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Director Dominic Cooke’s (On Chesil Beach) film, while working with a script from Tom O’Connor (The Hitman’s Bodyguard), gets the most out of his cast. The performances are good. Cumberbatch gets to play Wynne as a bit of a goofball, but the amiable and non-threatening type. He may drink too much, even “innocently” cheated on his wife, Sheila (played by Jessie Buckley). He is a family man, though, that can walk in and out of rooms without being noticed. And, even if he is, he becomes an afterthought.

While Cumberbatch gives a fine performance, creating heightened suspense and the film’s most effective scene, his counterpart, Ninidze, gives a remarkable one. His portrayal of Penkovsky comes with the tropes of moral high ground, but compared to Cumberbatch’s neophyte frenetic actions, you can see his slow burn. He’s a professional operative that is operating in the highest level of government. This is life and death for him and his family. The even-keel tone and methodical approach are directly responsible for the taut and wonderfully paced thriller.

It also has the added benefit of being based on a true story that’s just a good picture. The script is too lightweight thematically but is elevated by the third act’s final scenes. In particular, the interaction between its leads. That may not be enough to be an Awards contender, but it’s good enough to be an effective entertainment.

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