Movie Review: The Courier

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer seems to be the stance Russia and the United States have taken. Competitors, allies and enemies – the precarious relationship between the superpowers have spawned films about chess champions, space races, diplomatic relations and events surrounding the Cold War such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now that the world’s faced with another deadlock over Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the threat of nuclear warfare seems more imminent, recalling the shockwaves felt by the war of attrition between Khruschev and Kennedy. We may know how the story ended on a macro scale but The Courier shows just how important the actions of a few were in making the world a safer place once again.

The Courier zooms in to a story based on actual events, journeying with businessman, Greville Wynne, who is unexpectedly recruited to help put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis. A gregarious salesman who already had business relations in other Communist countries, he was a perfect choice to serve as a courier between MI6, the United States and a high-ranking Russian official. While Wynne’s home life is explored in some part, the focus and emotional core of The Courier is about two men who risked everything for the sake of humanity in its darkest hour through personal sacrifice, as well as a deep respect and honour for one another’s integrity.

The Power of the Dog and Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch is a fine and versatile actor, who continues to push the limits as he seamlessly morphs from one character to the next. Starring in The Courier, he sinks into his character in an admirable performance of two halves, going to great lengths to embody every aspect of his unexpected journey. Headlining a stellar cast in a historical film and turning point character reminiscent of The Imitation Game, his performance serves as a showcase for his chameleon-like abilities. Cumberbatch is the golden thread to this see-sawing spy drama thriller and finds an equal opposite insider and wingman, Merab Ninidze, with fine supporting performances from Jessie Buckley and Rachel Brosnahan.

the courier

“I’m sorry but I thought we were onto M… I… 7?”

The Courier is a timely and old-fashioned espionage drama that recalls the world of John Le Carre and productions like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While it takes place in a similar time, place and carries itself with a stoic sense of dignity, it’s much more accessible in terms of entertainment value. It’s a slow-burning, handsome and carefully controlled film, comparable with Bridges of Spies, that starts off slowly and gradually develops into much darker territory. From stuffy gentlemen’s clubs to Russian ballets, The Courier operates with great restraint, slowly unfurling with wit and grace until you soon realise you’re not only immersed but hooked.

Director Dominic Cooke is best known for On Chesil Beach, a wistful and haunting Saorise Ronan romance drama and adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel. While just as handsomely mounted, The Courier represents a much more confident outing for Cooke who is able to change lanes so masterfully who only realise you’re in too deep by the time the characters have had the same experience. The Courier is a refined and stirring drama thriller, deliberately slowed down by today’s standards, giving the actors space to thrive and landing some powerful moments without hitting you over the head. Cumberbatch has his own quiet dignity and astute grace, which comes to serve as a guideline for The Courier‘s tone.

While fairly simple and avoiding pure sensation, modesty makes way for the biographical and historical film’s ability to wield monumental themes. The Courier may be more relevant than ever based on current world events but it’s even more important in inspiring audiences to the same level of humanity as expressed through its point men. You will already know the outcome for the world, but the fate of the few in this insider story reverberates through time with a powerful message about staying true and pursuing the greater good at all costs.

The bottom line: Stirring