The Courier is a Cold War thriller that looks at an ordinary man who holds the weight of the world in his hand. This is a true story about Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), a charming British businessman who is brought on by MI6 and the C.I.A. to help get information from Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) a high ranking Russian officer who is willing to give out Russian secrets in order to get out of Russia. As the the mission goes on, Wynne begins to get invested emotionally, alienating his family and focusing on not only getting the information MI6 and the C.I.A. ask of him, but ensuring that his new friend escapes unharmed. But when the Russian government begins to suspect Wynne’s visits to Moscow, Wynne and Penkovsky are on the clock to get to recovery safely.
Cumberbatch gives one of the best performances of his career as Wynne. We watch as he starts the film as a charming, smooth businessman who is in a bit of a life rut and finds new purpose when he is recruited for this mission. As the mission goes on and Wynne and Penkovsky’s relationship grows, Wynne becomes more obsessed with completing it and saving Penkovsky’s life. Cumberbatch wears the obsession and tension brilliantly and really shines in the third act, where Wynne is at his most desperate and pained, which gives Cumberbatch a great opportunity to show off some of his best dramatic work to date. Ninidze is equally good as Penkovsky, a man trying to stay as calm and professional as he can while he risks his life leaking Russian information to the United States and Great Britain. Though we don’t get to know him as deeply as we get to Wynne, Ninidze is always gripping when on screen. Rachel Brosnahan also co-stars as our C.I.A. agent and she continues to prove her talent as a dramatic actor. I do wish the film did more with Jessie Buckley, who plays Wynne’s wife. Buckley is immensely talented her roll is rather thankless. Buckley does the best with what she was given though and he star continues to rise with every movie she is in.
What’s great about the Cold War genre is the endless tension throughout the movies. Much like the Cold War itself, you never know when something could go off or who is playing what side or where a spy could be lurking. You are always waiting for something to go down and it makes it makes for a thrilling view. Director Dominic Cooke does a great job of keeping the tension going the entire film, staring it off slowly but really ramping it up in the second act that leads to a shocking third act that takes the movie in a direction I did not see coming. Cooke also utilizes excellent costumes and sets and a moody score to put us the era.
The Courier is also a movie about the friendship formed between Wynne and Penkovsky, though this portion of the film isn’t as successful as the spy thriller portion. It starts off really strong, as we watch Wynne and Penkovsky start off as two men who are good at their jobs strictly on a mission and we see them slowly progress into friends, meeting each others families and having their interactions be more personal than business. But you never truly feel their bond, never to the point where you understand why Wynne would risk his life to go back to Moscow even after MI6 and the C.I.A. pull him from the mission and tell him that it’s a bad idea to continue to go back. The Courier plays a lot like Steven Spielberg’s masterful Bridge of Spies, though it is missing the heart and the patience that film had. This is a movie that has to get through a lot
Led by an outstanding performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, a tight, thrilling true story, and a great look and feel, The Courier is a smart, engaging, exciting Cold War thriller.