Benedict Cumberbatch stars as an English salesman recruited by British and US intelligence services to spy on the Soviet Union during the Cold War in The Courier, based on the true story of one Greville Wynne. Out Friday, the film—which aired at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival under the title Ironbark—has a 80% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Here's what they're saying:
- "The Courier gives Cumberbatch another meaty role, and the actor fits into it all too comfortably," delivering a "meticulous performance," writes Gary M. Kramer at Salon. He wishes there was more focus on Oleg Penkovsky, the Soviet agent who uses Wynne to ferry intelligence to the West, played by a "solid" Merab Ninidze. Though Kramer criticizes the film's "muted" nature, "the bromance that develops between Greville and Penkovsky is engaging."
- "The Cuban Missile Crisis might loom in the background, but we barely sense its menace" as director Dominic Cooke "is either unable to generate tension or simply chooses not to," writes Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times. Unfortunately, the film "stubbornly resists involving or affecting us until it's almost over," she writes. "By that time, though, you might have fallen asleep."
- Mick LaSalle, however, appears to have been nowhere near sleep. "As the pressures on Wynne increase, and the missions become more dangerous, the spectacle of this average man trying to stay safe becomes riveting," he writes at the San Francisco Chronicle, applauding Cumberbatch's "strong work." He adds "Tom O'Connor's script hits all the right notes, and Dominic Cooke's direction brings out unspoken subtleties of the characters and their interactions."
- Ann Hornaday argues the film's "modesty and carefully managed ambitions define its strong suit at a time when such films are scarcer every day." It's "enormous fun in its first hour and a half, while Cumberbatch makes the most of his good-humored character" before a darker shift that "isn't always quite as graceful as what’s gone before." Still, it's a "good" movie, Hornaday concludes at the Washington Post.
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