#REVIEW: “THE COURIER”
By George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
Based on true events, this espionage tale, set in the early ’60s when Kennedy and Khrushchev were playing a dangerous version of “quien es mas macho” with nuclear warheads, THE COURIER is a compelling and powerful story of heroic activities coupled with the strong bond of friendship. Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), uncomfortable with Khrushchev’s rhetoric, has a letter smuggled out of Moscow expressing his concerns for the world’s safety. With this information, the UK’s M16 and the CIA work together to find a solution to diffuse the situation. M16 Agent Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and CIA operative Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) hatch a plan to have British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) work with Penkovsky as a spy to gather intelligence. For a long time, under the unsuspecting noses of the Russian government, over 5000 pieces of information was successfully smuggled out. The two men develop a friendship and even meet each other’s wives and children. Until it all goes terribly wrong.
Cold War movies may no longer have an impact now as they did in the days of movie adaptations of John Le Carre novels, but THE COURIER excels on so many levels. The attention to detail, from the sets to the wardrobe is gloriously authentic – this is one of the best depiction of life in the 60s I’ve seen in quite some time. The Score by Golden Globes and Emmy-nominated Polish born Composer Abel Korzeniowski is a beautiful fusion of Western musical influences with a strong Eastern European flare. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s (12 Years a Slave, Judas and the Black Messiah) use of contrasting tones is a remarkable achievement. At times dark and harrowing then brightly-lit, it’s visually spectacular. However, it’s the acting by nearly all in the Cast that makes THE COURIER essential viewing.
I’ve always admired Benedict Cumberbatch. He is an Actor without vanity and attacks every role, whether it be a lead or supporting one, fearlessly and with conviction. His performance here is hypnotic, best exemplified in a scene where he is an audience member transfixed while watching Swan Lake being performed. It is his best screen work since The Imitation Game. As Penkovsky, Russian born Merab Ninidze is every bit Cumberbatch’s equal and Jessie Buckley (playing Wynne’s wife) registers phenomenally in each of her scenes. I was less impressed with Rachel Brosnahan. As excellent as she always is in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, she seems slightly out of her element here.
Truthfully, I approached THE COURIER with little enthusiasm. Let’s face it, we all know that the Cuban missile crisis ended with little repercussions. But Director Domenic Cooke has given us a nail-biting Ghriller with Cumberbatch at his best.
THE COURIER is playing now at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.