The Courier (2021) movie review
The Courier stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne, a real-life businessman who was recruited to act as a courier for information being leaked by a Russian traitor in the Cold War. The UK made film was released this past weekend (on the birthday of Wynne) to moderately positive reviews and a somewhat warm box office reception considering its competition in holdover Raya and the Last Dragon, as well as the HBO Max release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Despite seeing the film before Justice League, I admit that I spend the next day simply anticipating that film instead of thinking back on The Courier. Now having given some time to space out my thoughts from the massive superhero epic, The Courier is a fairly decent Cold War thriller for anyone who is truly intrigued by either the words “Cold War thriller” or “Benedict Cumberbatch.” If you don’t call in one of those two categories, just watch Bridge of Spies (2015) instead.
Right away I noticed that the performances were going to be a highlight. Before we even meet Cumberbatch, we meet Mereb Ninidze’s Oleg Penkovsky, the Russian traitor divulging information to the American government. Ninidze’s is wonderful! He perfectly captures the spirit of a conflicted man going against his own country for the good of the world, and the more tense the situation grows, the more you feel his inner struggle. And of course another performer who captures a similar struggle to similar success of Benedict Cumberbatch, who does perhaps the best facial reactions I’ve seen from him. I’m not saying this is his finest performance, but the film often takes the high road and banks on you putting information together when the characters in the film come to piece it together themselves, and boy do these two do an incredible job!
That said, another thing I noticed right away is that every single scene in this film is too short. That feeling did go away as the film became more interesting, but it also went well into the second act before that happened. I do feel like the original cut was twenty minutes longer, but not well paced; so they cut the film down to make it watchable. Except it just feels very jarring, especially when you can cut small scenes that have been cut so short they don’t matter. The Courier also has an issue focusing, with much of the first half spent on setup before finally turning towards a driven story with more compelling characters. In other words: The screenplay probably could have used some touching up.
As honestly dull as this film is sometimes, it does get quite interesting near the end (even though it limps across the finish line.) But while I would love to talk about some spoilers, I just want to praise the way they treat information in this film. Its smart is all I can say. That said, one more interesting aspect of this film comes in the form of Wynne’s wife Sheila, who gets fairly typical and underdeveloped writing throughout the first half.
One thing that kept me going early on was actually the score! Abel Korzeniowski’s music was fairly compelling, then pretty thrilling! I’m not saying the film is thrilling, and it could be that the compelling nature of the music comes from the lack of compelling film that accompanies it early on. But it was a solid score either way!
Also one more little thing that drove me insane: This film consistently breaks the 180 degree rule. That is to say if you draw an imaginary line between two characters in a room, the cameras should not cut across that line. If it does, there is a good chance it will feel jarring and you will lose track of exactly where the characters are standing of sitting. The camera can move and then cut, but it shouldn’t simply jump without reason. The Courier does this A LOT.
So as you can see, some very good things, some very dull things, and some little good and bad things sprinkled throughout. Honestly, it just depends what you are going into this film to see. If you just love Cold War films of Benedict Cumberbatch and are willing to set aside gripes about pacing and quality of filmmaking to get to a genuinely strong third act, you will have a great time! If you are going into this to see an all-together well-made film, you might just rip it apart. And justly so, as this is no Spielberg film. While I want to lean towards the former and give this film credit for the strong performances and story, I was a bit disinterested throughout the first half, and therefore probably wouldn’t watch it again. But it’s not bad, I’ll admit to that! 6/10.
So The Courier? Did you see it? What dis you think? And what is your favorite Cold War film? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review And you want to read more like it, let us know in the comments what we should review next!
-review by Ryan Prince