The Courier hits highs previously unimaginable for any espionage film other than Bond. The Courier explores the Cold War through an exciting and heart-wrenchingly human lens, based on the true story of the men and women who defused the Cuban Missile Crisis. Told through the eyes of a bumbling businessman no different from any other, we see the human cost to war and the many sacrifices – both great and small – that spies and ordinary people alike made for their country.
A highly placed Russian official, petrified by the possibility of nuclear war, reaches out to the CIA in a desperate bid to stop impending disaster. With few men on the ground, the CIA reluctantly seeks help from their British allies, who in turn find the perfect man for the job. The saviour in question? A well-placed yet utterly unremarkable businessman whose greatest concern typically relates to how he played golf that day.
Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), assured by his compatriots that the danger involved is minimal, initially feels honoured to be entrusted with such responsibility. Indeed, he finds the whole thing to be a rather exciting adventure. This sentiment proves short-lived however, as the precariousness of his new position soon becomes clear. Suddenly, our hero finds himself in an impossible situation: place himself in unimaginable danger and risk losing his wife and son (Jessie Buckley; Keir Hills), his sanity, and even his life for the mission, or walk away and allow the threat of nuclear war to become an ever more horrifying reality.
The Courier is so much more than a typical spy thriller, moving away from the obvious clichés to focus on telling a far more engaging story. One which focuses on human relations and the cost of war, rather than weapons and leading ladies. The film benefits greatly from this new direction, with a particular highlight being the friendship between Wynne and Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze). This nuanced brotherhood brings so much more depth to The Courier, as we are forced to face questions about patriotism, loyalty and sacrifice.
The surprising and unexpectedly touching friendship between these two characters is most affecting due to their contrasting personalities. One a businessman reluctantly made spy, the other a highly placed government official turned defector once nuclear war was on the table. They are, on paper, polar opposites, something they themselves recognise. And yet, their friendship is one of the strongest and most believable seen on screen, reminding us of a pivotal, yet easily forgotten truth: no matter where we are from, we always have more in common than we think. Of course, this film would not be able to so skilfully prescient if not for the incredible acting of Cumberbatch and Ninidze, who exquisitely portray these complex and lovably imperfect characters.
The Courier exceeds all expectations, offering a taste of one of the most fascinating periods in history without ever feeling dull, monotonous, or over-done. You are kept on the edge of your seat throughout, as this highly entertaining film flows between humour, heartfelt sincerity, and near-overwhelming tension. It is a production you can watch again and again, finding new things to enjoy each time, from the beautifully written script to the excellent casting and stunning cinematography.
Dominic Cooke is at his best when directing The Courier, never showing his hand early or forcefully pushing one storyline down the audiences’ throat. The result is a truly exceptional film that leads the audience on an emotional roller coaster from which they will be reluctant to ever escape.
The Courier premieres in UK cinemas on August 13th.