Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The high cost of spying: Dominick Cooke and Tom O'Connor's morality tale, THE COURIER

Quiet, slow and talky -- yet surprisingly interesting and entertaining, due primarily to that talk -- THE COURIER tosses us into the mid-20th-Century Cold War between the USSR and the USA (here, being played out in Britain) and comes up with a tasty morality tale that, for all its sidelong suspense and thrills, succeeds mainly as a cautionary story about the human cost of spying, paid for in guilt, betrayal, abuse and, yes, death.

As written by Tom O'Connor and directed by Dominick Cooke (shown below), the movie makes good use of its semi-starry cast that highlights the talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley and an extremely effective actor new to me, Merab Ninidze, whose character provides the movie's focal point and moral center.

Mr. Cumberbatch (below) is always a pleasure to watch, though some roles, of course, show him to much better advantage than others. This is one of his better, though far less showy, performances as the eponymous courier, a businessman named Greville Wynne, recruited by the Americans (under the direction of the character played by Ms Brosnahan) with the help of the British government -- all of whom and which need Greville to act as a kind of liaison between them and a high-level Russian suddenly turned spy (played by Mr. Ninidze). 

The movie raises the idea of what betraying one's country really means. Are you actually betraying it if you feel its leaders are on such a wrong course that they are destroying the citizens who depend on them. (In that case, the very few whistleblowers in our recent and vile Trump administration are the true heroes of our own country.) 

In The Courier, it is Ninidze's character, Oleg Penkovsky, who is the real hero, while Greville Wynne, even though he gets the most screen time, ends up betraying his wife (via lies, not sex) and family in order to "serve" his country. Well, them's the breaks, right? O'Connor's screenplay does not beat this idea to death, but it is certainly there, for us to mull over and form our own conclusions about, among other things, how very difficult, morally speaking, the act of spying simply has to be.

On the distaff side, not surprisingly, it is Ms Buckley (below, right) rather than Ms Brosnahan (above), who makes the best impression. As extraordinarily good as she is in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Brosnahan has only appeared in one other film role that TrustMovies has seen (the offbeat, lovely Change in the Air) that shows her to much advantage. Buckley, however, just keeps surprising us with her versatility and talent. Here, as the "betrayed" wife, she wins our empathy and understanding completely.

But it is Mr. Minidze, shown below, as the family-man traitor to his country, whose ideas and actions set the plot whirling and the movie's moral core ablaze. It is what happens to his character and why that will keep you energized and unsettled long after the movie's close. If many of The Courier's thrills and suspense may seem a tad second-hand, there is nothing stale about putting your life on the line for what you believe.

From Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate, the 111-minute movie opens this Friday, March 19, in theaters virtual and real all across the country. (Here in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Boca Raton/Palm Beach areas alone, it will play in two dozen theaters.) Click here to find those nearest you.

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