Thanks to my birthday this weekend, I didn’t have a lot of time to watch a film for my review. So, I ended up doing what I always used to do. Going to whichever streaming service I saw first and finding the shortest film that didn’t sound awful. I figured this based on a true story film would be just the thing. Intense enough to keep me interested but not too long to be too complicated. The fact that this also contained Benedict Cumberbatch’s face was just an added bonus.
I have to be honest, I started writing this review on Monday night but I have really struggled writing it. Partly because I’m really tired but also because it’s a really weird time to be thinking about war with Russia. The film is set during the Cold War when there was political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Although, unlike the current geopolitical situation, in the cold war didn’t see any large scale fighting between the two. It was mostly carried out behind closed doors or through proxy wars.
This is one of the reasons why Hollywood hasn’t done a lot with this topic. If we see anything set during the Cold War it is always amped up. The Courier gives us a real insight into what actually happened. We get to see the individual people who were risking their lives in secret. One of those men was British businessman Greville Wynne who worked with MI5 to carry Soviet secrets out of the country. These secrets gave the British and American governments insights into the nuclear programmed courtesy of Oleg Penkovsky. The pair helped bring about the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
As you would expect, this is a film that is full of tension and hushed conversations. However, it focuses more on the two men at the heart of the mission. We learn about both Greville and Oleg and the friendship that grew out of the situation. It’s a very understated and paired back kind of spy film. The two actors at the centre of the film, Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze, are both superb. They bring humanity and warmth to their characters and they make quite a pair. Watching them on screen together is fabulous and their chemistry brings everything together.
The story itself is interesting but hardly gripping. It’s kind of standard fair and the focus is primarily on Greville. It’s a shame because it feels as though there would be plenty more to get from Oleg than we do but when you cast Benedict Cumberbatch I guess you have to put him front and centre. This decision also means the film’s ending is a little rushed and halfhearted. We don’t really get to see the worst parts of the story and most things are explained in title cards before the credits. It feels as though this story and these men deserved more. Clearly, the people in charge of this film disagreed.
I can’t say that this is the kind of film that you’ll be rushing out to see again and again. In fact, it probably won’t stay with you long after your watch it. Still, during a time like this, it’s always good to remember that real people are willing to stand up for what they believe in. That even the most unlikely of people can face terrible times and endure for the greater good. Although, just look at the videos circling social media of Ukrainians standing up to Russian soldiers and you’ll realise the same thing.