Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jessie Buckley, Merab Ninidze
Director: Dominic Cooke
Running Time: 111 mins
The Courier is a British film about the true story of a British businessman who was recruited by Western intelligence agencies to make contact with a spy inside the Soviet government, on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
While it takes a while to get into top gear, The Courier delivers highly when it comes to telling the story of the iciest period of the Cold War. Bolstered by strong performances across the board and a spellbinding final act, this slow-burning drama is an enormously captivating watch.
First off, let’s draw some comparisons with Cold War thrillers tackling similar issues. On the espionage front, The Courier shares a lot of parallels with Steven Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies, while its setting in time is reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis thriller Thirteen Days.
Both Bridge Of Spies and Thirteen Days delivered brilliantly tense watches for different reasons, and that’s perhaps the place where The Courier doesn’t quite excel. Though an intriguing and atmospheric watch (particularly when set in Moscow), this movie doesn’t have the bubbling suspense from the start to make it absolutely exhilarating.
That’s why I call it a ‘slow-burner’ of a film, because while it excites from a historical perspective – I was astonished to learn this was a true story – it doesn’t have that intensity of either of the aforementioned Cold War thrillers.
That being said, The Courier is still a gripping watch, and much of that is brought about by the brilliant lead performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. While supporting players Merab Ninidze and especially Jessica Buckley impress, Cumberbatch’s likable and assured performance really anchors this film nicely.
You feel for him as an ingenue in the world of espionage, yet his charisma as a businessman makes him a hero that you have faith in, and who doesn’t seem entirely out of his depth in establishing cross-Iron Curtain relations.
However, it’s in the film’s final act that not just Cumberbatch’s performance, but the film as a whole, really takes things up a notch. Rather than taking a simplistic direction to link it into the wider context of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the screenplay sticks closely to the history, and to fantastic effect.
I won’t go into detail on the events of the final act in case you don’t know the history (I certainly didn’t), but The Courier evolves from an icy espionage thriller into a genuinely heartbreaking depiction of the true cost of Cold War tensions, which ran far, far deeper than the showpiece events we know today.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by The Courier. A strong, engaging watch from the start that, despite lacking tension, delivers great espionage intrigue, bolstered by fantastic performances that only go up a gear as the film enters a spectacular and heart-wrenching final act. So, that’s why I’m giving the film a 7.5 overall.