Arts & Leisure

I spy a tedious “The Courier”

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH stars in “The Courier.”

By Jim Tortolano

Most true spy stories are not very pulse-pounding. They involve routine, even tedious collection of seemingly innocuous information that somebody else makes sense of.

But every once in a while, there comes a spy (or spies) who come across something that has the potential to be literally earth-shattering, and that’s the story behind the new movie, “The Courier.”

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Greville Wynne in the real-life story of a British businessman who gets drawn into becoming a spy transporting secret information gathered by a conscience-stricken Russian trade official.

The path leads to the famous Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. At a meeting of top Soviet officials, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) hears Nikita Khrushchev threaten the U.S. with nuclear-tipped missiles to be sited in Cuba.

It is at this point that the film – from the audience’s viewpoint– shifts gears. To be frank, the early part of this movie has all the energy and drama of painting water colors that are restricted to black, grey and white.

Director Dominic Cooke (working from a  script by Tom O’Connor) is then able to kick up the tension and drama as the world heads to the edge of nuclear disaster, and our spies are discovered.

Cumberbatch gives his usual understated performance … stiff British upper lip and all that. Ninidze’s Russian turncoat seems believably agonized, and it’s fun to see Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) as a CIA officer.

There are harrowing moments to follow, but the world – as you may have noticed – did not blow up and humanity wasn’t wiped out. But the movie you saw wasn’t earth-shaking either: slow for an hour and tense after that.

James Bond was a fictional character, of course. History is important, but it doesn’t always make for gripping entertainment, either, and it certainly didn’t here.

“The Courier” is rated PG-13 for smoking, partial nudity, strong langiage and violence.

 

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