'The Courier' movie review: An excellent drama

'The Courier' movie review: An excellent drama powered by potent acting and strong screenplay

'The Courier' combines a strong script, masterful direction and, above all, potent acting, to deliver a truly exhilarating Cold War spy drama

Merab Ninidze (left) and Benedict Cumberbatch as Oleg Penkovsky and Greville Wynne in 'The Courier'. Credit: BookMyShow/Screenshot

Director: Dominic Cooke

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze

Score: 4 stars

It seems there might be a bit of spy thriller renaissance in the air. First, the excellent 'A Call to Spy' showed the story of Noor Inayat Khan's utter bravery in the face of Nazi threat, and now The Courier does the same thing with the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war in the 1960s.

Directed by Dominic Cooke, this is a potent drama, powered by sincere acting and an amazingly powerful screenplay, all of which coalesce into a cohesive, powerful film about friendship, love and the human spirit to do what is right for the greater good.

The Cuban missile crisis was a particularly dark time in the history of the Cold War. The Space Race might have been fun to an outside observer, but the only thing going through the minds of people during the nuclear tension between the Soviets and the Americans was fear. This was exacerbated by the fact that both countries were constantly trying to one-up each other in creating weapons of mass destruction. Truly, it's a time when spies were in great demand and treated with exceptional care.

And this is where the story comes in. It follows the tale of Oleg Penkovsky, a Soviet intelligence colonel, and Greville Wynne, an English businessman. Strange though it may seem, but fate had it that Penkovsky and Wynne would become frequent collaborators in smuggling Soviet intelligence to the West in hopes of ending any possibility of armed conflict before it came to pass, subverting the Big Brother-like perpetual surveillance in the Soviet Union to ensure information went where it had to go.

It is in its laser-focussed plot that The Courier finds its footing. Given its time period, there is little reason for the plot to distract from the crisis at hand, and that lends it an immense strength in story, coupled with Tom O’Connor's sharp, no-nonsense screenplay to drive home the severity of the situation the characters of the world live in.

Yet for all its strength in writing, its true prowess is in its acting. Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze are absolutely convincing as Wynne and Penkovsky, with each of them carrying a perpetual air of tension and foreboding as they scramble to ensure war doesn't happen at great personal risk. Of course, those who know the story know it doesn't end well for Penkovsky, though ultimately he did manage to change the course of the Cold War.

Saying both Cumberbatch and Ninidze crack out their best acting game in this film would be both true and false. It is true in the sense that the acting is so absorbing, it melds everything together to create a film worthy of its time, and false in the sense that the dreary and bleak nature of the world sort of rules over their natural charisma on the screen, though of course, by necessity of the setting.

Director Dominic Cooke, who has extensive experience in theatre but only one feature film so far, doesn't feel like he's out of his element in any way. Granted, he has the benefit of the strong screenplay and acting, but it takes a certain level of talent and experience to make sure the execution of both is up to par - and it is. Combined with Sean Bobbitt's masterful cinematography and Abel Korzeniowski's tense, ever-present music, you can really tell a lot of effort went into making this work.

There's not a lot to fault with The Courier, barring the fact that there's not much more of it. It's gritty, it's smart, it's well-made - and above all, it's an excellent film, especially for those who want to get into learning about the more clandestine figures and activities of the Cold War.

The Courier is streaming on BookMyShow Stream.

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