Dominic Cooke’s The Courier is the real-life story of a business man Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his venture into being a bridge spy between the MI6 and a Soviet informant. At first viewing, it was off to a rather slow start, with mentions to the ongoing cold war between the USA and USSR.
This drops the setting and backdrop of the entire movie and is centered around the approach to the Cuban Missile Crisis, introducing the two protagonists living in opposite scenes.
Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) works in the Soviet Ministry, previously decorated as an officer in the war. Wynne is recruited as he would lie low in the radar of Soviet intelligence, landing in the country as a businessman looking to sell parts to the Soviet factories, where Penkovsky also worked. The story recounts the incidents between them, as Wynne acts as the Courier between Penkovsky and Allied Intelligence, their budding friendship, their familial relationships and eventual ends.
First things first, the cinematography is simply beautiful, with the DOP making prompt and efficient use of natural lighting. The stress is on the lighting because in their absence, the actors would feel more comfortable, as if they weren’t acting at all. The amount of content in each frame, the attention to the symbolic details and the expert manipulation of the lighting are all commendable in the flick.
Persistently, we are reminded how good of an actor Cumberbatch is, and with the supporting cast as such in the movie it is an experience ripe of emotions and feelings. We see him taking Wynne’s character arc through highs and lows, both of which are violently visible and are somewhat of a feat to do on camera. You can see him take the character to the most elevated of highs, only to fall steeply to humble lows.
Noticeable is the transformation of Wynne from a go-lucky borderline alcoholic middle-aged man to a responsible, wretched and thankful patriot. The journey to realization and self-loathing is of marked importance. Ninidze also does the same, portraying Penkovsky as one with roots to his family’s wellbeing, never missing a step in his acting as if it were him in the 1960s Soviet Moscow spying on his country’s nuclear assets.
One thing that I feel was negative about the movie Courier was the entirety of the first half being dragged out for too long. It felt a pointless waste of time, maybe necessary from the director’s perspective, but still a little unmatched to the plot. If they focused the time and dedication to the ending, which was truly the main part of Wynne’s story, they could have handled the expectation and thrill better. But, then again, it did give Wynne’s and Penkovsky’s characters a BIG (literally) arc.
The absolute best scene would definitely come just before the big defection of Penkovsky to the US. Penkovsky and Wynne attend a performance of the Black Swan, as they did on Wynne’s first visit to the USSR. As the camera pans back and forth between the show and their reactions to it, they realize the extent of what they were going to do and of a peace filled life henceforth. The acting in just that one scene is definitely worth the hour of buildup before that. The rollercoaster of a scene is both an acting and cinematographic marvel, as they slowly take a breath and grasp the importance of what they were going to accomplish.
The end of the movie is, giving no spoilers, understandable and satisfying. As a viewer, it gave me a sense of completion and self-nourishing. It is certainly not the best spy thriller out there, but Cumberbatch and the cast would make it worthwhile. I would give the movie a modest 68% just because of that.
Reviewing the movie without spilling spoilers would be near to impossible, but in case you really want to watch the movie, I would suggest you pay attention to the minute details of the scenes, the still frames and lighting and also near-perfect acting.
Watch The Courier, directed by Dominic Cooke, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.