The Courier (M) - 111 minutes
The Cold War is alive and well and the Cuban Missile Crisis is about to happen in the tense thriller The Courier.
Based upon fact, it tells the story of arguably Russia’s most valuable source of information for the West during this tumultuous period.
With the threat of nuclear war a real possibility, a high stakes cat and mouse game plays out.
Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) is a family man, with a loving wife and young daughter.
He is a reasonably high ranking Russian official – a former military man, who rose to the rank of Colonel – who fears what leader Nikita Khrushchev (Vladimir Chuprikov)
is capable of.
He wants to prevent the almost unimaginable from happening.
To that end, he takes a risk by secreting valuable intel through a couple of random Americans he hears speaking, asking them to take the offering post haste to the US Embassy.
One does and that sets off a chain of events that will see literally thousands of documents photographed and shared.
With a lack of resources, the CIA calls on M-I6 for support.
They determine the best way to avoid suspicion is to enlist the services of a civilian, as distinct from a seasoned spy.
So it is that the conduit for extracting information becomes a British salesman, Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), with a wife, Sheila (Jessie Buckley) and young son, Andrew (Keir Hills). He has done business in Eastern Europe but not in Russia.
Wynne is expressly told not to share the truth of his endeavour with his family.
That, in itself, could prove problematic because he has been caught out before, having had an affair.
As far as the espionage goes, all progresses well ... until things go horribly wrong.
It takes quite a while for the story to build momentum and kick up a gear.
The filmmakers – writer Tom O’Connor and director Dominic Cooke – seem to take an inordinately long time to establish the set up and then deal with a significant hiccup before bringing the story arc home.
Cumberbatch is convincing in the lead role – a man who moves outside his comfort zone.
It is an excellent portrayal of a man on edge.
I also appreciated the calm demeanour of Ninidze in depicting a man with a greater purpose, intent on “doing the right thing”.
I liked the contrasting styles attributed to the Americans and the British, particularly as seen through the eyes of Rachel Brosnahan as Emily Donovan (CIA) and Angus Wright as Dickie Franks (M-I6).
They are the two agents charged with direct responsibility for the operation.
Buckley plays an important part as Wynne’s no-nonsense wife, who suspects he is up to no good.
There is an authenticity about the sets and settings, readily transporting us back in time.
The Courier casts a nefarious picture of a time the world was on the precipice.
It could have been tightened to maximise its impact, but is still well worth a look.
Rated M, it scores a 7 out of 10.