The Courier is based on real-life events that took place in the 1960s but continue to be relevant. The tense dance between the United States and Russia we are still witnessing has its roots in the Cold War, during which the US and the former Soviet Union came close to using bombing each other with nuclear weapons. Dominic Cooke’s movie, which is out on BookMyShow Stream, tells the story of two people who reportedly played a role in preventing Armageddon.

In 1960, British businessman Greville Wynne’s smart salesmanship brings him to the attention of his country’s secret service. He is recruited to travel to Moscow under the guise of sealing commercial deals and contact a high-ranking Soviet official who wants to defect to the West. Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) has access to the Soviet Union’s nuclear plans, which he offers to American agent Emily (Rachel Brosnahan) in return for safe passage.

A bond develops between Greville (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Oleg, forged over visits to the Bolshoi Theatre and a shared understanding of the importance of their mission. Tom O’Connor’s screenplay will have us believe that Oleg and Greville were instrumental in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, during which America and the Soviet Union came close to nuking each other.

However, the movie doesn’t work hard enough to convince us that a self-declared British amateur and a well-meaning Soviet bureaucrat were all that stood between world peace and wholesale destruction.

The mostly unsmiling Russians are reliable villains, but British intelligence doesn’t fare any better, the movie suggests. Greville’s handlers match their Soviet counterparts in coldness and cruelty. Indeed, the 111-minute movie actually begins when Greville finds himself living his worst nightmare, far away from his wife and son and in danger of being forgotten.

Solidly and well-intended but unwilling to push its themes to their logical end, The Courier benefits from its lead actors. Benedict Cumberbatch, bulked-up, moustachioed and jangly-nerved, is the main selling point here.

The schematic script is equally elevated by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s frigid tones and long shots, which are filled with foreboding and forewarning. Bobbitt’s lighting is especially lovely in a scene in which Greville and Oleg communicate in whispers in a bugged room with the radio on.

The Courier (2020).