The Courier tells the true story of a British businessman (Benedict Cumberbatch) unwittingly recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. Forming an unlikely partnership with a Soviet officer (Merab Ninizde) hoping to prevent a nuclear confrontation, the two men work together to provide the crucial intelligence used to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Courier Review

To Spy or Not To Spy?

The Courier is a spy movie that’s not quite a spy movie. 

Cumberbatch’s Greville Wynne is, at the start, an ordinary business man. Then the British government (with a push from the American government) recruits him to pass information out of Cold War Russia. 

It’s a concept that both works and doesn’t work for film. On the positive side, it makes the story largely revolve around its most human elements: friendship across borders, familial ties, and the desire to do good and protect others. While watching a Bond film drops you into an exciting fantasy about spy work, The Courier hits you with the reality. Wynne is in over his head – just like any of us would be in his situation. You want him to succeed not just for Queen and Country, but because you see him as a real person.

On the negative side…it makes it a lot less like the spy thriller you’re probably expecting. There is some intrigue. (Especially by the end, but I would definitely call this one a “slow burner” in terms of thrills.) But the point of Wynne’s position is he’s not doing a ton of active spy work. He’s The Courier. He’s meant to transport documents and maintain plausible deniability. So while we do get to see some of the hoops Wynne jumps through to pass along secrets (it’s a lot of awkward handshakes and shared cigarettes), we’re also subjected to a fair amount of not-so-interesting business posturing.

The Courier isn’t completely without thrills, but a lot of the drama happens on a more personal level. So if you’re expecting intense spy intrigue throughout, you’ll probably find yourself disappointed.

Performances and Pacing

Performances in The Courier shine. Cumberbatch and Ninizde create an intimate and believable bond between each other and their respective families. You connect to them as people, and you want them both to make it out of this dangerous web they’ve fallen into. 

But the pacing of The Courier gets a little muddled. Most of the film is more of a slow burn, with drama simmering just under the surface. Then towards the end, there’s a big, thrilling spy sequence that feels more blockbuster-y, followed by another slow-burn drama element to close out the movie. The shakeup will be a welcome change of pace for some, and an out-of-place sequence for others. Personally, I enjoyed the escalation, but I also agree it doesn’t necessarily “fit” the rest of the film.

The Bottom Line

While it’s not the most thrilling of spy stories, solid performances and an emphasis on personal relationships elevate The Courier into a film worth giving a chance.

Rating: 7/10

The Courier premieres March 19.