Benedict Cumberbatch is back on the silver screen. He stars as Greville Wynne in The Courier, which is based on the true story of Wynne, a regular British citizen who was recruited to spy for MI6 during the Cold War. Wynn and Oleg Penkovsky, a Soviet colonel, form a partnership to secretly provide information that winds up defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis. The movie also stars Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Angus Wright, and Merab Ninidze as Penkovsky, and is directed by Dominic Cooke.
The film was originally titled Ironbark and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of last year. After a few delays, The Courier is now finally being released in theaters this Friday, March 19. Critics have started releasing their reviews for the film, so check out what they have to say.
CinemaBlend’s own Eric Eisenberg saw the spy thriller for the home team and considers it worth a watch. He writes that Cumberbatch’s and Ninidze’s performances are excellent, and gives credit to the screenwriter Tom O’Connor for keeping the film tension-filled and allowing the audience to become emotionally invested in the characters throughout. Eisenberg continued, saying:
Thanks to an awesome performance from star Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s a memorable one. You may go into the feature not being aware of the extraordinary efforts made by ordinary British citizen Greville Wynne during the Cold War, but you’ll walk away remembering his incredible bravery thanks to what is a tense and well-paced thriller, with the turn from its lead being the great highlight.
Leigh Monson from WhatToWatch enjoyed many aspects of The Courier. She commends Ninidze’s performance, noting that he had much more emotional range than Cumberbatch. She also considers the business relationship turned friendship between the lead roles the “beating heart” of the film. But that’s also where she criticizes the movie, arguing that it feels wrong for it to have framed that friendship as the driving force of the narrative, and then shuffle the more interesting of those two characters (Ninidze’s Penkovsky) off to the side as more of a supporting role. Monson said:
Even with that misplaced priority in story economy, The Courier is an entertaining film for how it pulls together a compelling tale of camaraderie from the auspices of a spy thriller.
Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt noted in her review that though there is a familiarity in The Courier to other spy thrillers, Tom O’Connor’s script and the performances by Cumberbatch and Ninidze are “remarkable” (There seems to be a common theme here). Greenblatt also praised Dominic Cooke’s (On Chesil Beach) steady direction that kept the action moving. She continued, saying:
The Courier might not be a great film in the end, but it is a satisfying good one — a story that's at its best when it colors outside the black and white (or Communist red, as it were) lines of war and hones in on the real, fallible men and women who fight it, one quiet inglorious step at a time.
Variety’s Peter Debruge also highly praised the lead performances in the movie, (Yep, we’re definitely seeing a theme here) along with the cinematography and score. However, he considers the film less exciting than it could have been, and notes that “there are too few extras to flesh out the film, giving the relatively stuffy impression that life stops at the edge of the frame.” Debruge continued:
Despite ongoing conflicts with Russia today, the movie doesn’t feel terribly relevant to our time. Maybe in 60 years, someone will make a movie about Wynne’s modern-day counterpart, but for now, let’s assume he’s hidden in plain sight.
Well, it seems that most critics agree that Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze are great highlights of The Courier. We'll have to wait until Friday, March 19 to see if audiences agree.
While we wait for the spy thriller to debut, you can check out all the other movies that are also premiering this month.