Friday, March 19, 2021

The Courier

Based on true events, director Dominic Cooke's The Courier offers a solid period thriller surrounding Soviet scientist Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) and British salesman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) who becomes a vital piece in Cold War espionage by smuggling Soviet secrets out Moscow for Penkovsky and into the waiting arms of MI6 and the CIA in the months leading up the the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Penned by Tom O'Connor (The Hitman’s Bodyguard), The Courier fits easily into its genre. The structure of the film, following events from beginning to end in chronological fashion, does offer a rather large shift in The Courier's final half-hour which may have been avoided by more imaginative editing and structure. Cumberbatch and Ninidze will gather the most interest here. The women of the story don't fare as well. The film has a lesser interest in Wynne's wife (Jessie Buckley) and almost no interest in Penkovsky's family. Even Rachel Brosnahan as the CIA agent who brings the case to MI6's attention and pressures them to make good on their promises, isn't given anything all that interesting to do.

Wynne and Penkovsky make for an unusual pairing, but you can see the reason why they worked well together in making Penkovsky (codenamed Ironbark) the most valuable Soviet asset during the Cold War. The Courier is one of those films you could see playing on various cable stations non-stop for years to come. It knows what it is, and works within its structure to build suspense and offer a tale on the back of a pair of strong performances by its leading men without ever taking a turn that would be too dark for prime time. It's a safe film, that doesn't take nearly as many chances as it could, but an enjoyable one that will keep your attention throughout.

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