[Review] ‘THE COURIER’ a tense Cold War thriller powered by another remarkable Cumberbatch performance


Preston Barta // Features Editor 


Rated PG-13, 111 minutes.
Director: Dominic Cooke
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Angus Wright and Anton Lesser

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hanks seem to share a lot in common. Not only are they both gifted actors kicking up creative dust within the arts and wonderful sources of positivity, but they’ve been in a lot of movies where the text “based on a true story” is featured just as prominently as their names and film titles.

And it’s for a good reason: They’re excellent presenters and illustrators of the truth. You can always expect to plug into historical tales through human characters and narrative beats that echo loudly in our minds. 

The Courier, directed by Dominic Cooke (The Hollow Crown), is another outlet to charge up your dad-movie energy. It also happens to be a thumping good Cold War thriller.

The film features Cumberbatch in a true-story journey about British engineer and businessman Greville Wynne. The CIA and MI-6 recruited Wynne to act as a courier to transport top-secret information out of the Soviet Union. Through a partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (a very good Merab Ninidze), Wynne works to smuggle the intelligence needed to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Courier easily could have been sucked up into its spy movie machinations, but Cooke doesn’t discount the real people who risked their lives during the Cold War. Each character feels well-drawn, and each situation strikes with intrigue and emotional impact—especially by the film’s end when your jaw is on the floor, thinking about the shadowed heroics of these individuals. 

What holds the strongest in the narrative is how it doesn’t disregard the familial toll. For both the Russian and English agents, the wives and children are given proper focus and drive up the stakes. Cumberbatch and Ninidze adeptly peel back the complicated layers of this drama. Their camaraderie and confidence ring without a false note. 

On paper, The Courier reads like it could be a bore. But under the skillful hands of its director and talent, it’s a crisp espionage thriller that establishes a tense atmosphere and keeps viewers engaged from start to finish.

Grade: B

The Courier is now playing in theaters.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.