The spy game is always a dangerous one to to play. It’s Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn to learn that lesson in this new historical drama.
Cumberbatch plays Greville Wynne in “The Courier,” a film that takes place during one of the most tense periods of the Cold War. Wynne is British salesman who often travels for work. Along with visiting neighboring countries, Wynne also travels to some Eastern Bloc nations.
Because of his ability to do business in the Soviet area, Wynne is recruited by the CIA and MI6 to go to Russia and meet with an informant. He’s told by the agencies that he is only to visit the informant, Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), and return documents to MI6, appearing as just a regular salesman conducting business However, with the Cuban Missile situation nearing, surveillance of what Wynne is doing begins to increase.
“The Courier” is a serviceable spy thriller, but not a sensational one. The story is certainly interesting, and it offers plenty of historical background to a chapter in the Cuban Missile Crisis tale that some may not know about.
While it works in keeping a viewer engaged, though, it never becomes truly enthralling. One issue is the film seems to consistently lack a sense of urgency. Despite everything that’s happening on the world stage, the importance and gravity of the situation simply doesn’t translate to what the characters are doing.
We see Wynne building a friendship with Penkovsky and the impact that this work is having on his family life, yet the implications of what’s happening in the Cold War don’t hit like they should.
People being shoved into this type of covert position can make for some really great spy genre pictures, such as “Argo” and “Bridge of Spies.” However, “The Courier” never rises to those levels of intensity or suspense. The movie comes across as rather subdued when compared to others in the genre.
Another issue is how flat the movie looks overall. Sean Bobbitt, the film’s director of photography who’s done strong work in the past, offers average cinematography in this go around. It’s also noticeable that the film’s script by Tom O’Connor is often stilted and at times gives characters generic dialogue.
Fortunately, the movie is greatly benefited by a talented, dedicated cast. Cumberbatch, an Academy Award nominee, does some fantastic work here as the salesman-turned-spy. The character has times where he’s reluctant and others where he is resilient, and Cumberbatch captures both to truly bring this person to life on the screen.
Ninidze is also strong as Penkovsky. The Russian official is always fairly on edge because of what he’s doing. He knows the KGB is always looming, and Ninidze is effective in portraying those characteristics.
Additionally, while the film isn’t in the upper echelon of the genre when it comes to its storytelling or some other aspects, it’s still a competently made feature that fills an audience in on a fascinating piece of history. 3 out of 5.