Review by Sean Boelman
The Benedict Cumberbatch-starring Cold War thriller The Courier is the type of film that is mostly entertaining, even if it doesn’t pack the political punch that it very obviously could. Safe but well-acted and suspenseful, this is the type of undeniably watchable but also somewhat forgettable movie that audiences will consume and quickly discard.
The film follows a salesman who is recruited by British intelligence to be a spy against the Soviet Union in an attempt to end the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s a pretty exceptional true story, but writer Tom O’Connor takes this and makes a Hollywood-friendly spy thriller out of it, removing any sense of authenticity or originality.
For much of the first half, we follow the protagonist as he struggles to maintain his cover and smuggle Soviet secrets back to his home country. It’s compelling, if a tad repetitive, but director Dominic Cooke does a good job of getting suspense out of these scenes despite them having lower stakes than the typical spy action. However, when the stakes are raised, the movie loses its feeling of intrigue.
There is also a subplot about the protagonist’s family life that is really interesting but entirely underdeveloped. In a few scenes, the characters skirt around the themes of loyalty and trust, as O’Connor tries to create a parallelism between patriotism and loyalty to one’s country and faithfulness in a marriage, but it sadly doesn’t amount to much.
This is very much a film driven by the talents of his lead actor. Although he doesn’t do a whole lot to differentiate it from some of his other biographical performances, Cumberbatch gives a strong turn here. He really sells the everyman element of the character, making the audience identify with him as a normal guy who is just extremely brave.
The rest of the cast is also solid, although the roles range from small to entirely insignificant. Rachel Brosnahan is one of the more notable supporting players, proving yet again that she has the chops to hold her own. Jessie Buckley feels a bit out-of-place as the protagonist’s wife, with a role that is too small for her talents.
Everything about the movie looks good, with a good amount of detail put into the periodization, but it also isn’t anything particularly spectacular. Cooke has crafted a competent film with all of the visual and aural elements to allow it to function on a basic level, but it is missing that feeling of immersion that could have set this above and beyond.
The Courier is a good enough spy thriller that is made into something of legitimate interest thanks to the presence of star Benedict Cumberbatch. Don’t come looking for anything especially high-caliber, and you will be satisfied.
The Courier hits theaters on March 19.