Incorrectly billed as a thriller, The Courier is a drama that refuses to embrace the suspenseful premise until the final act. It’s a slow-burn that is just too slow. It will be easier to follow if you’re fluent in foreign policy, as it’s jam-packed with tons of political mumbo jumbo. Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a performance that dabbles with greatness when it finally allows him to let loose. He plays Cold War spy Greville Wynne, scheming with his Russian sources to end the impending tyranny of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Benedict Cumberbatch has played nearly an exact replica of this type of role time and time again. In the first half, it’s like he’s on autopilot; he could practically play it in his sleep. The final 25 minutes completely veers off course and morphs into the movie I wanted all along. It’s much more interesting and engaging than the rest. It is only then that this film actually has something to say and successfully builds tension. The violence and torture Greville undergoes in the prison is equal parts harrowing and disturbing. This chunk of the film allows us more insight into Benedict’s character and gives the veteran actor, yet another, brand-spanking-new sample for his acting reel. There isn’t much meat on the bones of the remaining characters. Not a lick of development is to be found as we check off the boxes of various real-life personas. Most of them come across as hollow, though I did enjoy Rachel Brosnahan as Emily.
The Courier isn’t an awful film, just one that comes across as Oscar bait, through and through. Once those nominations roll out, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Benedict Cumberbatch among the list of nominees. He shines the most near the conclusion, when the script allows him to break free of the inherent stiffness that comes with his character. There’s a lot of runtime padding that doesn’t gel with the larger whole. Did we need a laboriously long ballet sequence to grind the story to a halt? The Cuban Missile Crisis is interesting by itself. I wish the movie was more aware of how to keep an important moment in history as dangerous and compelling as is in that finale. The Courier played as part of 2020’s Sundance Film Festival, and it hits theaters in the US and UK on March 19th.