I love spy movies. Spy everything! I recently read the Tim Werner book the history of the CIA. He was not kind about their bungling attempts during the cold war. Aw how this film disappointed me. The most shocking thing about it was Benedict Cumberbatch's weight loss from his time in the Russian Gulag. Now this is based on a true story. So it has to be exciting! But to me it wasn't anything we hadn't seen before, that has been done better. Like Red Joan, shockingly arresting old ladies for spying!
I think the problem is partly with the actor (Merab Ninidze) chosen to play Alex. Now normally I would be all for the praise because he is actually Russian ( well Georgian) and so that's how it should be. Normally I would gbe complaining why not hire a native Russian for this job. Looking at his CV he has been in quite a few spy related TV work. I kept thinking of Mark Rylance
and his performance and comparing it to in bridge of spies. Ironically Ninidze was actually in Bridge of Spies
as an interrogator. That level of acting is what was needed here, even though I didn't love that film. This man is going to betray the county he loves to save the world. How can you make that boring, well director Dominic Cooke, you did. Perhaps stick to theatre?
For this film to work you need a believable cornerstone of chemistry between the characters of Grenville and Alex and I don't think that was there. I think there was certainly a lukewarm mildness but not the kind that might make you want to risk your life to save him destroying your own life and marriage in the process. Maybe the problem was Cumberbatch, maybe he was too much like mild mannered polite characters we have seen him play before. He felt bland in it I'll be honest. I didn't really care what happened to him.
I didn't much care about Alex Pencovsky either. Maybe they made him a little too reserved for me to take to him. I found both wives much more emotive and believable in their roles. I detested the scene near the end where they brought Alex and Grenville together ( why would they do that?) perhaps they were hoping to turn Grenville to spy for Russia. By letting him know all hope was lost as Alex has already confessed to everything and your involvement. Spy for us and we will let you go. Alex thinking all hope was lost, but no Alex, Grenville shall tell you in half shadow and moody overhead lighting ( theatre stage lighting much anyone?) that your sacrifice was worth it. Hammy!
The other scene I founds really awful was when Cumberbatch cried at the ballet. It was just over the top, cliche and self indulgent with no bearing on the film. If it had been the first time at the ballet then maybe, but he had been before with his Russian friend. Ah Who knows maybe he cried every time. Maybe we should have had an equal scene where Alex cried at a western one woman play about getting jeans to fit you framed around the decadence of the west.
I really enjoyed Angus Wright and enjoyed his character and the way he played it but I had a real issue with Rachel Brosnahan's CIA Russian desk lead. The bigger problem being with some of the female characters being a step out- not of their time.
I couldn't even remember her character Emily's name initially . I thought it was far too modern a portrayal and I hated the way they made her all " freedom and justice and America and what's right" all dewy eyed and captain America-esque. Ugh just no. A woman in her position would have had to deal with a hell of a lot, just for being a woman in her position at the CIA and that was all just glossed over back to this non traditional casting business. They made it look like she was more important than she really was by glossing over it all. Where she becomes more like a symbolic cardboard cut out than a real actual person.
The shocking thing was at the end when the little blurb says Pencovsky's intel was probably the most important in stopping full nuclear war.
BLUE CORNER'S RATING FOR The Courier (2021): 5.5 / 10