There are some actors who are so talented, they can make any bad movie or bad line come off as natural and impressive and it’s not a quality every actor possesses. Sometimes an actor can carry a whole movie on their own and even though you don’t want one person to carry the whole production, it’s nice knowing their talent can take you quite a bit of distance. Benedict Cumberbatch is definitely talented enough to carry a film by himself, I have never seen him give a bad performance before and today’s film is no exception. However, the entertainment and investment in a film also depend largely on how the rest of the content flows, and that brings us to the contradictory conundrum problem of how to view/rate a movie like “The Courier.”
Set during the upcoming threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in the shadow of the Cold War a letter from Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) an agency of the Soviet Union received by M16 stating the concern of Penkovsky about world safety and his anxiety about nuclear war, So Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) a CIA Agent reached out to MI6 Agent Dickie Franks (Angus Wright), who recruited British salesman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) to be their spy and uncover information that can stop the Cuban Missile Crisis before it’s too late; based on a true story.
I’m always iffy about true story films and even more so about ones based on my least favorite genre of film: war stories. Granted, “The Courier” is a spy movie at heart and while all of its heavy-handed dialogue and dramatic political tension may engage others, it only served to alienate and bore me as the movie drudged on and on. I mean no disrespect to anyone who worked on this film or the real-life people and events it’s based on, but no matter how many dramatic music cues, close-ups or theatrical gestures the characters make; some things just aren’t that thrilling and don’t translate interestingly enough to film. At no point did I care much about what anyone was saying or doing. More than half the movie was just a bunch of shifty people walking in shadows in trench coats and having supposedly serious conversations in dramatic fashions.
I know very little about how authentic or accurate Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Greville Wynne was but I can certainly say he played the role with masterful effort and class. In a lot of ways, it felt like I was watching his character/role from “Black Mass” expanded into the leading role (even though they are obviously completely different roles.) The problem is, as great as he is, it wasn’t enough to alleviate the cloud of dull dust that had settled on every other minor and major supporting character. It looks beautiful, it’s shot very well and framed excellently…but it doesn’t help if everything that is being framed is exhaustingly boring. Nothing really happens, just a lot of deep conversations about being a spy, risks spies are exposed to and it just keeps dragging on and on with little variation.
I can’t help but feel if I would have understood things faster and clearer if I just read a history book and find out what happened in a condensed fashion instead of watching this. Least then it would have been over faster and I would have gotten the accurate story (not sure how accurate any of this film is.) I understand Hollywood’s need to spice things up with flare and all that, but there are only so many times you can have someone talk intensely about the same subject for 2 hours straight before it feels tiresome and you lost whatever fragment of interest you had left. I can’t even remember anything that really happened in the movie or anyone’s name outside of Cumberbatch. I remember it was shot well and I remember it was about the Cuban Missile Crisis but that’s about it.
Overall, “The Courier” just can’t keep up with the thematic edge it’s framing this information around; it’s just not that interesting. Cumberbatch is, as always, a delight to watch and the cinematography is admirably well done. But what good is a movie if you can’t remember it a few hours after seeing it? That’s the problem I have with “The Courier.” I remember the history and I remember Benedict Cumberbatch but anything and anyone else in the film quickly fades away into afterthoughts not worth revisiting. The star power of Cumberbatch cannot turn a boring film into an exciting one and I hope the portrayals here were accurate to real-life because otherwise, I honestly don’t know what else this movie has going for it.
Rating: I give “The Courier” 2 stars out of 4.