The Courier is a spy thriller based on real life events that transpired with an Englishman named Greville Wynne. When an unassuming businessman gets roped into becoming a spy to help put an end to the Cuban missile crisis, he must choose to risk paying the ultimate price of losing his family and his freedom if he wants to try to stop a seemingly inevitable war. A rather boring businessman who appears on the outside to be good at his job, Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) puts on a persona to entertain potential clients so that he can cut deals with them. As an international man of travel, he's accustomed to doing business in Eastern Europe. But his unassuming nature, steady job and commitment to his family make him the perfect target for M16 agent Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and CIA agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) to recruit him as a spy. The job they want him for, although dangerous, is simple: to meet with a Russian agent named Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) and simply be a courier to get any kind of intel back home in order to help prevent a war. Initially opposed to the idea, Wynne would rather not chance losing his family whom he loves very much, including his trusting wife Shiela (Jessie Buckley) and his young son, Andrew (Keir Hills). But after meeting the Russian agent Penkovsky, Wynne realizes that he's found a fellow family man and all-around good guy who is doing something heroic for the world. Thinking of making the world a better place for his own family, Wynne relents and accepts the job as courier. But he now must think about where his duty lies while he is unable to tell his loved ones about his secret identity as an agent. Directed by Dominic Cooke (
On Chesil Beach), the relationships in The Courier are all finely executed, from the friendships between would-be heroes to the evolving trust between Wynne and his wife Sheila, as they literally grow further apart, due to his need for travel. What Cooke delivers are very human characters who must dig in their own searches for truth. Written by Tom O'Connor ( The Hitman's Bodyguard, Fire with Fire), there are a lot of straightforward and obvious moments which work, for the most part. The pacing takes a bit of a dive in the slower second half, and any promises about a spy's life being exciting is mostly eliminated from the entire film. In a sense, O'Connor may have stuck too true to life to really get some grit propelling the story forward. The bromance between Wynne, the courier and Penkovsky, the more experienced spy, is believable in large part thanks to the acting chops of the leads. While their characters are a little one-dimensional, there are enough similarities between the two to warrant a solid friendship and true empathy during their imprisonment. A dark, foreboding tone in lighting and music menaces the imagery and signifies trouble ahead throughout the film. There are plenty of setups and payoffs that land, although for fans of the spy thriller genre, there are a lot of slow-paced slogs to push through, with a noticeable lack of true-action moments. While worth a watch, if only to marvel that this is based on a true story, The Courier argues that a hero can come from anywhere and is created by a man's sacrifice for the greater good. Gruesome prison torture scenes may evoke sympathy, but at the cost of adding unnecessary scenes in for shock value. The Courier under-delivers with a slower second half bogging down a promising and heartfelt, although not very exciting setup.
All Movie Guide - Jules Fox