The Courier - B
Rated PG-13, 111 minutes
The tense, compelling true Cold War spy drama "The Courier" from British director Dominic Cooke and a screenplay from Tom O'Connor provides insight into how regular people diffused a world crisis. Its story is a familiar one with few surprises, but remains solid entertainment.
The film tells true story of the British businessman Greville Wynne (Oscar-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch) who helped MI6 penetrate the Soviet nuclear program during the Cold War. Wynne and his Russian source, Oleg Penkovsky, codenamed Ironbark (Merab Ninidze) provided crucial intelligence that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis, with Wynne acting as a courier, smuggling important Russian data to London.
The well-acted "The Courier" is a distant, lesser-known cousin to the prominent Cold War spy drama, "Bridge of Spies," set in and around the same time as that Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks film, but with a story that's just as worthy to be told. It's on a much smaller scale, yet the valuable partnership established by Wynne and Penkovsky helped to prevent a nuclear catastrophe.
The film's best asset by far is "Doctor Strange's" Cumberbatch in one of his best roles to date; it's too bad "The Courier" can't find a wider release, because it's performance that deserves to be seen. He's especially effective in the last act in the prison scenes, and the emotional look on his face when he returns home from his imprisonment is one of the film's most memorable moments. Russian actor Ninidze adds realism as Penkovsky, and he and Cumberbatch share a nice warmth. "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's" Rachel Brosnahan is strong as a government official, as is "Fargo's" Jessie Buckley as Wynne's frustrated wife Sheila, who suspects something early on.
Cooke's solid direction keeps the action moving along through some of the film's murkier moments, while Cumberbatch manages to hold your interest. There are few surprises in store, especially if you're familiar with the outcome of the story, but "The Courier" is peppered with enough powerful moments and energy to make an above-average entry in the spy genre.