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The Courier Movie Review: A Real-Life Spy “Thriller”

I really am fascinated by the Cold War. I studied political science in college and that era was where I tended to focus. That is to say that The Courier, a spy thriller based almost smack dab in the middle of those tensions, plays directly to me and my interests. If you are not quite the Cold War nerd that I am, you might see things a bit differently.

The Courier tells the story Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), a British businessman enlisted to ferry top secret information back to England in 1960. His frequent trips to Western Bloc countries made him a perfect asset for MI-6 and the CIA. Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) provides the intelligence to Wynne during his business trips to Moscow, facilitated by Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) from the CIA and Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) of MI-6. A desire to avoid nuclear war inspired Penkovsky to share the Soviet secrets, the same desire that led Wynne to accept the potentially dangerous assignment from Franks and Donovan.

Rachel Brosnahan and Benedict Cumberbatch in THE COURIER

Photo Credit: Liam Daniel Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

The importance of this true-life story cannot be emphasised enough. The efforts of Wynne and Penkovsky provided the intelligence needed to end the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War staying cold owes at least some of the credit to these two spies. The problem lies with turning this story into a spy “thriller.” Yes, the stakes were high, but the “thrills” were mostly on paper. The story only seems to ramp up in the third act, which will, unfortunately, be a little too late for some viewers.

While the plot makes creating an engaging story a challenge, director Dominic Cooke gives it his level best. The Courier nails that moody 1960s aesthetic, and Cooke manages to distill a sense of tension in the film despite the lack of typical thriller-style action. The stellar performances from the cast certainly helped to carry the story basically as far as it could possibly go. There is a decided lack of chemistry between Wynne and his wife (Jessie Buckley), but I am inclined to believe that was a purposeful choice rather than a failure in their performances.

If you are not already inclined to enjoy historical films and Cold War-era spy stories, The Courier is probably not the film that will win you over. Telling a true story comes with a restricting set of limitations if the director chooses to stay mostly within the bounds of accuracy. I give all credit to Cooke for choosing accuracy over excitement, something the history nerds in the theater will appreciate. The story is important, and the ending alone makes the film worth watching. Just know, this thriller goes pretty light on actual thrills.

The Courier enters theaters on March 19, 2021.

About The Courier

Rating: PG-13 (Smoking Throughout|Partial Nudity|Brief Strong Language|Violence)
Runtime: 1h 51m

THE COURIER is a true-life spy thriller, the story of an unassuming British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. At the behest of the UK’s MI-6 and a CIA operative (Rachel Brosnahan), he forms a covert, dangerous partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) in an effort to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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