the courier

Who doesn't want to see Doctor Strange himself, Benedict Cumberbatch become a reluctant spy in the cold war? Set during the Cold War and before the Cuban Missile Crisis, "The Courier" plays like a novel from the esteemed spy writer John le Carré. The biggest difference is that this film is actually based on a true story. We follow Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), a businessman who stumbles upon the world of spies, which includes a team up with a Russian source (Merab Ninidze) to try and end the Cuban Missile Crisis. I know that when I first read that premise, I couldn't believe it. In doing some research after seeing it, I realized just how passionate the film is about this story.

In no small part, that's due to the committed lead and supporting performances of Cumberbatch and Ninidze. I'm going to refrain from saying how this story turned out because it's more effective going in with the less information you have. Not only does it make the film more entertaining, but it also thoroughly enhances the performances. Particularly in the "fish out of water" sort of character that Cumberbatch has to play. The innocence and scared humor of Wynne adds to the boiling tension. As he navigates through the web of intrigue, which includes dealing with handlers—one of which is an American CIA agent (Rachel Brosnahan)—we get the typical spy movie beats. These include placing packages in hidden locations, installing listening devices, and even using coded speech. As a fan of movie interpretations of these things, I found it to be very entertaining.

Though the strongest asset would have to be the relationship between Cumberbatch and Ninidze. There's a fascinating argument about the ethics of what they're each doing for their countries in their subtle conversations. It's these sorts of conversations that give substance to the typical spy movie trappings. These two men's business-like relationship is so engaging because it grows into a friendship that feels entirely organic. Which makes us truly feel concerned for them both when their life gets put into severe danger. It certainly isn't anything you haven't seen before, but it's done in a surprisingly nuanced way. That nuance comes from the realization that, accuracy aside, these events happened to real people.

Simultaneously, the true story element also takes away from some of the thrilling material. Lot's of the best realistic spy material doesn't rely on shootouts, car chases and fistfights. The best focus on tense conversations in fancy restaurants discussing conversations that will have repercussions on the world. This can also include trade coveted files while sitting on a park bench, which may be a bit too slow for some. As for someone who read plenty of spy novels growing up, I found it incredibly entertaining. It's these stylistic choices that also serve as a detriment to the film's female characters. If you're going in as a fan of Rachel Brosnahan or Jessie Buckley, you won't be happy with how little they're given to do.

"The Courier" is the exact sort of spy thriller that is made for an older audience. Focused more on the area of intrigue, the plot could seem somewhat tedious. Based on a true story, I found it a rather interesting look into this Cold War period. It's a film that relies on methodical pacing, which amply follows the rules established in spy classics like "Three Days of a Condor." It doesn't reinvent the wheel but already adds to what the genre's diehard fans will love.

Rating: 6.5/10

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