The Courier: A Riveting Espionage Drama Set in the Cold War Era

Film:The Courier (2020; FilmNation Entertainment). Playing on Amazon Prime.
Duration: 112 minutes
Director: Dominic Cooke
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan and Vladimir Chuprikov
Our Take: Commendable drama full of intrigue. Likely to engage those who like Cold War-themed films.

Set in the 1960s, in the backdrop of the US-Soviet Cold War, The Courier is the story of an ordinary 'businessman' who finds himself saving the world from a nuclear crisis.

Based on true events, the film unspools the story of how London-based Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), who claims to be just a "salesman" is recruited by two secret agents, one from the CIA and the other from MI6, to be a part of a dangerous undercover mission on Russian territory.

Greville is tasked to meet 'Ironbark' -- the code name for Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) of Soviet Military Intelligence in Moscow. His mission is to carry back "some" vital information. Penkovsky's information, "to save the world", proved critical to de-escalate Russia's intentions to install a nuclear missile base in Cuba.

The film, written by Tom O'Connor and directed by Dominic Cooke, who had earlier given us On Chesil Beach, is not an action-packed thriller; instead, it is designed as a character-driven espionage drama, where the warm relationship forged between the Soviet informer and the British courier, along with the atmosphere within their families, is sensitively addressed.

It is touching when Wynne's wife, Sheila (Jessie Buckley), becomes suspicious about her husband having a lover because of the numerous times he travels to Moscow and returns charged with romantic overtures.

The narrative of the screenplay gradually unravels a formulaic disposition, where two good-intentioned souls put their families at stake to save the world. While Greville and his family's characters are well-etched, Penkovsky and his family have been denied equal footage, making them appear a bit mysterious.

On the performance front, all actors are competent, the portrayal of their characters is both brilliant and natural. Cumberbatch, in the last act as the emaciated and tonsured prisoner, brings to fore his characteristic histrionics. He manages to wow the audience, but his performance loses its sheen owing to the poor directorial handling.

While the first two acts move smoothly, the final act when Greville is imprisoned, is when the narrative gets a bit jerky and the resolution is unconvincing. It appears to be a rushed job. Technically, the film is well-crafted. With its sepia-tone frames it captures the dull-grey period aptly.

Overall, The Courier is a commendable drama that is enthralling and is likely to engage those who like Cold War-themed films.  - By Troy Ribeiro IANS