FlixChatter Review: The Courier (2021)


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I love spy movies, so I was immediately intrigued by The Courier which is set during the Cold War. It’s based on a true story of Greville Wynne, a middle-class businessman whose frequent travel to Eastern Europe got him recruited by CIA and MI6 as their spy. There’s a John Le Carré feel to the trailer and the fact that unlike the Bond movies, it shows the non-glamorous side of espionage. I really like A Most Wanted Man and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the latter also starred Benedict Cumberbatch. This time, he plays the title role.

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It all started with a letter from Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a member of the Soviet Intelligence Agency (GRU) who was concerned for world safety as he felt his country, under Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership, was on the brink of nuclear war with the US. His intel set the motion for MI6 and CIA to join forces and recruit an unlikely spy. The idea is to get a British salesman to pose as Penkovsky’s business partner as a cover while they work to gain intel relating to Soviet missiles being transported to Cuba.

All of that sounds really intriguing on paper, even the trailer made it look really captivating and suspenseful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate to the actual movie. Even the way Wynne was recruited didn’t play out as interesting as one would expect. Angus Wright and Rachel Brosnahan may look the part as MI6 and CIA agent respectivelly, but they aren’t that convincing in their roles. Brosnahan in particular, seems like she hasn’t quite escaped her Marvelous Mrs. Maisel role which makes her feel out of place in this movie. The way they often blurt out highly-classified information loudly in public also feels unrealistic.

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Director Dominic Cooke, working from a script by Tom O’Connor is a theatre director and this is his sophomore feature effort. I don’t mind the slower pace and the fact that it started out slow, unfortunately it never quite gained momentum. The espionage scenes aren’t particularly gripping or suspenseful enough until the end, which feels a little too late. There’s also the undercooked drama between Wynne and his family that’s supposed to illustrate the underlying marital tension, but it all feels flat and rather emotionless.

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Now, most of the performances are actually good. While he’s done eccentric flashy roles like Sherlock and Dr. Strange, I think Cumberbatch is suitable to play the ‘everyman’ character as he does here. I’m not going to give too much away but he’s so committed in this role that he went the Christian-Bale route towards the end. His character’s transformation and sudden zeal of bravery seems to have come out of left field though. The script never really explore his motivations and his friendship with Penkovsky seems superficial in the way it was portrayed. As for Ninidse, I’ve never seen the Georgian actor in anything before, but he definitely gives a strong and empathetic performance here as Penkovsky. Rising star Jessie Buckley as Wynne’s wife also have her moments that elevate her from just being an ordinary housewife. Unfortunately, there’s a profound lack of character development, particularly in regards to Wynne that it’s hard to get fully invested in his extraordinary journey.

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I think the real issue is in the script, direction and overall aesthetic… in that order. The Cuban Missile Crisis is obviously a captivating subject matter, add the humanistic element to it and you should’ve gotten something really special. Yet, this movie is serviceable at best, with boiler-plate production design that offers the bare minimum to pass as believable. It’s quite surprising given the star power. I can’t even remember any particularly memorably shot from the film either, but overall the film feels dark and drab. I think a more capable filmmaker that’s well-suited for this genre could’ve made this much more exciting and meaningful.

Oh, and the original title is Ironbark (Penkovsky’s code name) which is much more interesting than the generic title they go with now. Well, The Courier ends up being a generic and ho-hum spy film that recall similar, much more memorable movies set during the Cold War. I’d say it’s worth a rent only if you’re a huge fan of the cast, but they’re way better in other films.


Have you seen The Courier? Well, what did you think?

March Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

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HAPPY SPRING!! We already hit 70 degrees earlier this week, 20 degrees warmer than what it’s supposed to be in late March in Minnesota. Of course we went back to the 30s immediately, but a 30-40 degree swing is pretty common here, but hey I’ll take even the occasional 60-70 degree early Spring day and today we almost hit 70 again, woot!!

Well, March turns out to be a pretty busy month work-wise that I managed to only watch 10 new-to-me movies! Partly because I had been invited to be one of the jury for an intercollegiate shorts film festival for a local university, Augsburg College. My short film HEARTS WANT had been shown at an Augsburg event a couple of years ago, and since it’s partnering with Twin Cities Film Fest which is near + dear to me, I just had to take part. In additional to this list below, I watched about 18 or so short films this month.

In any case, so here’s what I watched in MARCH:

NEW TO ME MOVIES

French Exit (2020)

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French Exit is a 2020 surreal comedy film starring Michelle Pfeiffer as a Manhattan heiress who moves to Paris with her son (Lucas Hedges) with the little money they have left. It’s a bizarre film and at times I have no idea where the filmmaker was going w/ it, but still worth a watch for La Pfeiffer’s elegantly-quirky performance.

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Where Hands Touch (2018)

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A rites of passage story of a bi-racial teen struggling for survival in Nazi Germany. I had missed this back in 2018 and given I loved Amma Asante’s work (especially Belle), I decided to finally watch it. The performance of Amandla Stenberg as Leyna is terrific, but the forbidden romance story between Leyna and Lutz (George MacKay), a member of Hitler Youth, isn’t as compelling as Asante’s previous work. It does highlight the history of Afro-Germans, but I think that story deserved a better film.

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The Courier (2021)

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Cold War spy Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his Russian source try to put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Stay tuned for my full review coming up next week!

Sentinelle

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Some people on Twitter were calling this female John Wick, but it’s nowhere near as fun. Olga Kurylenko plays a trained French soldier suffering PTSD after a combat mission and uses her lethal skills to hunt down the man who hurt her sister. Started out promising and it tries hard to be edgy, but falls flat and overall a pretty boring, predictable movie with a weak ending.

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Crisis (2021)

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Check out my full review AND interview with writer/director Nicholas Jarecki.

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

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I watched this as part of my St. Patrick’s Day post and it’s such a delightful, funny and quirky movie!

 4=

Justice League – The Snyder Cut (2021)

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I only watched this as my hubby was curious about it. I really tried to be neutral about this, though I absolutely abhorred the original Justice League. Can’t say this one is much of an improvement other than the fact that they improved Cyborg’s character development. But seriously, the darn thing is 4 hours long, if they can’t flesh out at least a single character in that time frame, then what the heck is the point?? Visually it’s just not a beautiful movie either, garish and overly morose.

Honestly I don’t see much artistic merit in this movie, I’m just mourning that $70 mil wasted to do another version of this. I mean, it could’ve made like a dozen indie films that are much more compelling story-wise.

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One Night in Miami (2020)

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I’m so glad I finally saw this! I’ve been too swamped to write a proper review of this but props to Regina King (in her directing debut no less) and screenwriter Kemp Powers for adapting his own play into a solid film. It tells this fictional account of one incredible night where icons Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown gathered discussing their roles in the Civil Rights Movement and cultural upheaval of the 60s. All the actors portraying those historical figures did a terrific job here.

4/5 stars

Arsène Lupin (2004)

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I came across this title on Amazon Prime and given how much I enjoyed Netflix’s LUPIN series, I decided to give it a shot. Romain Duris played the charming gentleman thief, involving a love triangle between a seductive sorceress (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the lovely girl from his childhood (Eva Green). Just the cast alone is intriguing, but the movie is pretty weird and borderline bizarre at times, but the French scenery and costumes are wonderful!

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AUDREY (documentary – 2021)

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I grew up watching Audrey Hepburn and still am in awe of her beauty. It’s fascinating watching this documentary told by those close to her, including her own son Sean Hepburn Ferrer. The ballet scenes are beautiful, evoking her past life as a ballerina, but I think it’s a bit overused. Overall I feel like the documentary feels a bit style-over-substance, which I can see why they did it given Audrey was such a style icon. Still I think the film was made with love and I’m glad it also highlights her remarkable life off-screen as a passionate humanitarian.

 3.5=

 


TV SERIES

Ted Lasso

I just LOVE this series!! I’m going to dedicate a post for it one of these days! It’s rare to see such a defiantly positive show that actually celebrates a good guy and being good to others, there are so many shows that are way too dark + violent these days, so Ted Lasso is just so refreshing!


The Falcon & The Winter Soldier

It’s only two episodes and I’m enjoying the series thus far! I actually reviewed the premiere episode here if you care to check it out. The third episode is the best so far, with familiar faces from MCU.


REWATCHES

MI: Fallout

Greatest Showman

Moulin Rogue!

Civil War

Endgame

The African Doctor


March MOVIE OF THE MONTH

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Yet another film based on a play that ends up being my favorite of the month (last month’s fave was The Father). I’m hoping a local theater would stage the play of this one, given how the commentary on Civil Rights Movement is so timely these days.


Well, what did you watch this past month and what’s YOUR favorite film you saw in March?