The Courier Movie Review
Director Dominic Cooke’s last film was On Chesil Beach, a movie so dull I couldn’t sit through the whole thing. Writer Tom O’Conner’s? The Hitman’s Bodyguard, a movie that I found instantly forgettable. What a difference a few years makes. These two men have come together to create The Courier, a splendidly engrossing spy thriller powered by a head-turning performance by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Mr. Cumberbatch plays Greville Wynne, a British businessman who was recruited by MI-6 to transport top secret documents from high-level Soviet informant Oleg Penkovsky. Cumberbatch is generally regarded as a top-tier actor, but when you look at his resume since his Oscar-nominated 2014 turn as Alan Turing in The [overrated] Imitation Game, he’s largely played it safe, appearing in a bunch of Marvel films and other popcorn entertainment. With The Courier, Cumberbatch is given a role to chew on, and chew he does, gnawing the very constructs of his character down to the bone. On the surface, the role of Wynne doesn’t seem like the meatist of roles--he’s recruited to be a spy because of his blandness--but Cumberbatch makes the most of the opportunity. He only gets better as the story unfolds.
Frankly, it’s the kind of portrayal that deserves award attention, though he’s unlikely to get it due to the movie’s early release date.
The rest of The Courier is a solid, old-fashioned, real-world spy film, straddling drama and thriller in grounded fashion. You won’t find action sequences or head-twisting double and triple betrayals; at its core, the movie is about two men (the other being Penkovsky, played incredibly well by Merab Ninidze) who are both committed to the survival of the human race and who, despite starkly different backgrounds, form a real bond. The spy elements operate at the periphery of this connection, and that’s perfectly fine.
The Courier is a well-staged, grounded spy film well deserving of attention, Cumberbatch’s performance aside. But the actor elevates the material to another level, making this one of the first must-see movies of 2021.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.