The Courier

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Lionsgate;
Drama;
Box Office $6.6 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, partial nudity, brief strong language, and smoking throughout.
Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Merab Ninidze, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley, Angus Wright, Maria Mironova, Kirill Pirogov, Zeljko Ivanek.

The engrossing Cold War docudrama The Courier examines a lesser-known chapter of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The film takes place in the early 1960s, when a high ranking Soviet army officer named Col. Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) becomes wary of his country’s military boasting and makes overtures to help the West.

The American CIA and Britain’s MI6 soon organize an effort to utilize him as a mole, but don’t have any operatives who could credibly infiltrate Moscow to make contact with him.

So, they recruit an industrial salesman named Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has already made business inroads selling supplies to communist countries, to proffer a similar business arrangement in the U.S.S.R. as a front for obtaining state secrets from Penkovsky. As an amateur to the clandestine services, Wynne fears for his safety at first, but comes to embrace his role ferrying packages from Penkovsky to the Western intelligence agencies. Some of the documents tip off American spy planes about where to look for missile bases on Cuba, leading to the confrontation that ultimately would lead the Soviets to back down and set up improved channels of communications to stave off the threat of nuclear war between the superpowers.

Eventually, Wynne and Penkovsky develop a mutual respect and friendship that is tested when the KGB begins to suspect their treachery. Realizing the heat now on Wynne, his MI6 overseer pulls him off the case and sends him back to his life, much to the chagrin of the CIA liaison (Rachel Brosnahan). However, Wynne volunteers for one last mission with hopes to help Penkovsky defect to the West and live out his dream of setting up his family on a ranch in Montana.

Cumberbatch blends naturally into the role of the earnest yet wary businessman thrust into an impossible situation. Why based on actual events, the film works more as an absorbing spy thriller than a history lesson, since a number of key details were fictionalized for dramatic effect. For instance, Brosnahan’s CIA officer character is completely made up, constructed to inject a woman into the mix, according to the screenwriter.

This revelation and many more details about the production are included with the lone extra on the Blu-ray, a comprehensive 29-minute making-of featurette.

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Cold War Doc and Thrillers Coming on DVD From Mill Creek in April

The documentary Minutes to Midnight: The Cold War Chronicles and a six-in-one DVD of Cold War Thrillers are coming to DVD plus digital in April from Mill Creek Entertainment.

Minutes to Midnight: The Cold War Chronicles is a documentary filmed over a two-year period that deals with the early years of the Cold War and one of the U.S. Air Force formations that stood on the ramparts of the free world. The DVD also includes 15 government propaganda films from the 1950s featuring narration and appearances from Glenn Ford, Edward R. Murrow, Lowell Thomas and John Wayne.

Cold War Thrillers includes six films about the period. Man on a String (1960) stars Ernest Borgnine, Kerwin Mathews and Alexander Scourby and was directed by Andre De Toth (House of Wax). The Deadly Affair (1966), directed by Sidney Lumet, features James Mason, Maximillian Schell and Simone Signoret with a score by Quincy Jones. Otley (1968), directed by Dick Clement, stars Tom Courtenay and Romy Schneider. A Dandy in Aspic (1968), directed by Anthony Mann, stars Mia Farrow, Laurence Harvey and Tom Courtenay with a score by Quincy Jones. Hammerhead (1968), directed by David Miller, features Peter Vaughan, Vince Edwards and Diana Dors. And The Executioner (1970), directed by Sam Wanamaker, stars George Peppard, Joan Collins, Oscar Homolka and Judy Geeson.