Set in the 1960s, ‘The Courier’ depicts a true story from the Cold War era. A British businessman, Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), and his Soviet source, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), work together to help MI6 penetrate the Soviet nuclear programme. They hope to bring an end to the Cuban missile crisis.
For a spy movie, ‘The Courier’ takes a little while to find its footing. From the cinematography to the script (writer Tom O’Connor’s previous credits include ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ and its sequel, which doesn’t particularly inspire confidence…) to the music, the movie simply lacks anything extraordinary. At the same time, it by no means lacks skilfulness nor professionalism either.
Benedict Cumberbatch has always demonstrated a range of talent and pushes himself in his roles (‘The Imitation Game’ and TV movie ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War’ remaining his two most underrated performances). He is brilliant again here, though it won’t be the role that wins him that Best Actor Oscar that his career is certainly on the trajectory towards.
Cumberbatch is well-matched, it should be noted too, by co-star Merab Ninidze. The Georgian actor counters the Colonel’s confidence and wiliness to Greville’s uncertainties and insecurities well. The relationship between the two men – while not overly affectionate, is undoubtedly rooted in loyalty – is central to what makes the movie work.
Aside from them, you’ve also got ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ star Rachel Brosnahan (who just looks so good in those ‘50s-60s era get-ups) as a CIA agent. She’s very good again, playing a much straighter role than in the renowned Amazon series. Also in the cast is Kerry actress Jessie Buckley playing the wife of Greville, delivering a sympathetic and shrewd performance.
The director Dominic Cooke’s background in theatre really shows in his direction of the actors and the staging of particular scenes. It’s the second half of the movie where the excitement really picks up and you get the thrills expected of the genre. It’s a very good final act, moving steadily from riveting to devastating, again thanks mostly to our lead performers. By no means will ‘The Courier’ go down on any top 10 Cold war thriller movie lists, but it is an interesting movie based on an incredible true story.