Released: 1st April
Seen: 25th August
In a recent review of the movie Six Minutes To Midnight I pointed out that there were so many war films, particularly about the two big ones that the whole world took part in, that we had hit a point where it was hard to imagine someone doing something new with the genre. It’s grown stale, there is no real new story to tell and to back me up on this we have The Courier, a film that feels like it should bore me with its familiarity… but surprise, this one is actually good enough to work despite its recognizable tone.
The Courier, based on a true story from the Cold War, follows a simple English businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is recruited by MI6 and the CIA to take part in a mission. The mission is simple, pose as the business partner of Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) and get information from him about a series of missiles that are heading to Cuba. Greville must do all he can to maintain his cover because getting caught trading secrets would not end well for him.
The Courier is one of those classic slow burn spy thrillers, taking the time to build an elaborate world of espionage. It’s got all the classic trademarks of a good spy thriller, with some gorgeous visuals that really help elevate the story. From the luscious framing to the perfect set design, The Courier is just a stunning film to look at and enjoy just how much went into making this work. It’s not going for something big and bombastic, it’s a lot of talking and visual story telling but it makes every second of it as compelling as possible.
Most of the heavy lifting to make this film work as well as it does comes down to the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the greatest actors working today and this is a real display of the kind of role that he thrives in. He imbues Greville with a strength that just makes you believe that he would somehow be able to pull off such a dangerous mission, but also with enough intellect to know how to get out of some difficult scenarios. There’s one shot right near the end of the film where, without uttering a single word, Benedict absolutely destroys the viewer with a simple look. It’s the kind of performance that you sit through a 2 hour film just to marvel at.
Another impressive thing is that The Courier doesn’t waste a single second, there’s no filler here to be found. It’s all just powerful character work by our lead performer or it’s integral story stuff that builds this spy thriller up to its highest potential. Every scene moves by quickly and efficiently, building tension so gradually that you barely even notice that you’re starting to get tense until the final moments when the film lets everything start to crumble and you feel the weight of everything just land on top of you.
It really doesn’t shock me that the director of The Courier is mostly known for theatre work because he really has a handle on how to make the most of just a couple of actors talking on a simple set. He has that knack with actors that makes them sell the material wonderfully and impressively it never feels stagey, which is always a potential issue when someone moves from stage to screen. It’s a lovely mix of the best of both worlds that makes me interested in seeing what he does next (which is apparently an adaptation of Sondheim’s Follies, so thatshould be fascinating) because if nothing else I’m confident it’ll have some great performances.
The Courier is a film that mostly leans on its lead, but in this case that’s the correct thing to lean on. It’s a tense and intriguing little thriller that’s probably best suited for an older audience who can enjoy the little details that make The Courier feel so rich and intriguing.