Review: Tense ‘The Courier’ Made More Compelling Because It’s Based On True Story

Mar 19, 2021, 8:57 AM | Updated: Jun 11, 2021, 7:13 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s been said that “the door of history turns on small hinges,” and that is nowhere more evident than the story told in “The Courier,” a true story about an English businessman who gets caught up in the world of espionage during the Cold War in the 1960s.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Greville Wynne, a salesman from England who is asked by MI-6 and the CIA to help them out when a high-ranking government official from the Soviet Union wants to smuggle out secrets to the West.

The spy agencies explain to Wynne that because he doesn’t actually work for the government or have any spy training, no one would ever suspect him of anything if he were to go over for legitimate business purposes. Once there, he’ll do actual sales, but in the process he’ll make contact with the Russian asset and be the “courier” who brings back classified documents.

He wouldn’t even know what they are.

The story then follows how Wynne copes with and handles his assignment while also questioning himself on how far he’s willing to go — especially if it means he might help prevent nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union during one of the most tense political standoffs in world history.

As smooth and debonair as Benedict Cumberbatch can be, he plays it much more buttoned up and nervous, which makes sense.

He still has his natural charm, but he also convincingly portrays the anguish Wynne feels at having to lie to his family — especially his wife – about what he’s really doing in Moscow.

You’ll also recognize Rachel Brosnahan (from Amazon’s “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) as a CIA agent who seems to be more concerned with Wynne’s safety than his own government is at times.

I liked the themes of trust, courage and especially sacrifice as you realize and hopefully appreciate that these were real people making really difficult and dangerous decisions without the benefit the we enjoy today of historical hindsight.

Plus, knowing that it was a true story actually motivated me to go and learn a bit more about this particular period of the Cold War and some of the events referenced in the movie.

It’s also worth pointing out there are a couple of other films set in this same time frame that can give additional historical context: Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ “Bridge of Spies” and Kevin Costner’s “13 Days.”

As far as warnings, there are a few.

“The Courier” is rated PG-13 for a bit of colorful language as well as some scenes of life in a Cold War-era Russian prison. — including some violence and scenes where a prisoner is stripped down. The run time is just under two hours.

But I found “The Courier” to be a tense, political thriller that didn’t always do what I expected and was made more compelling by the fact that it is a true story.

You even get to see some news footage of the actual Greville Wynne during the closing credits, which I always enjoy and find fascinating.

I give it 2½ out of 4 stars, and I think those who like political thrillers and historical movies will enjoy it the most.

As for where you can watch it, it’s exclusively in movie theaters for now. There are no releases on any streaming platforms for a while.

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Review: Tense ‘The Courier’ Made More Compelling Because It’s Based On True Story