The Courier is a 2021 Cold War thriller/drama directed by Dominic Cooke (On Chesil Beach). The film depicts a cooperative effort between the CIA and MI6 to reach an informant within KGB headquarters, Soviet military intelligence colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze). Their plan is to plant salesman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Moscow as a ploy to unsuspectingly meet with Penkovsky, where Wynne will introduce himself via sales pitch. Once he develops a relationship with Penkovsky, he will then be handed briefcases of Soviet intelligence that he must drop off at various dead drops.
The plot of the movie is straightforward: an apparent civilian on a business trip grabs enemy information and hands it to the good guys. Since The Courier is based on true events, Cooke and screenwriter Tom O’Connor had limited creative liberty as an effort to preserve what actually happened being shown. As a result of their being grounded in reality, there are a few dull moments which serve their purpose to the plot but are a drag nonetheless. However, the cinematic steps Cooke did take were effective. I was particularly impressed by the visual eye and camera work of accomplished cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Throughout the movie, Bobbitt demonstrates a threatening aura through his color palette of washed out colors and red, symbolizing the dangers of the mission. He is also successful in capturing the emotions of the characters. A favorite example of mine is when Greville first hears of his assignment and the camera pans around him as he processes the idea of potentially being a spy for the government.
Another aspect of the movie I enjoyed was the score composed by Abel Korzeniowski. The motifs for Moscow were suited to their setting, with Russian orchestral inspirations. The music often pressed the urgency of the film, and emphasized the danger Greville didn’t realize he was in.
The performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze were convincing. The role from Cumberbatch is more of what we’ve come to expect from him, his character being that of above intelligence and slight social awkwardness. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan plays a charming, yet deceivingly manipulative CIA agent. Jessie Buckley, who plays Greville’s wife, is able to acquire sympathy from the audience as she becomes inevitably embroiled in her husband’s affairs. The interactions between the cast felt genuine, and helped piece the film together.
The Courier is a solidly entertaining historical movie, which I do recommend to those who have a soft spot for Cold War dramas.