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At The Movies: ‘Courier’ and spies

“The Courier” is a nifty spy thriller with an outstanding performance by the always intriguing Benedict Cumberbatch.

Cumberbatch portrays Greville Wynne, a British salesman whose international travels envelope him in an increasingly tangled web of espionage during the early 1960s.

Wynne is recruited by Great Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6 to deliver information from a Soviet Union intelligence official, Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), to the British spy agency.

The story unfolds during the Cold War circa 1960 and an escalating Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States.

Russian ICBMs on Cuban soil were supposedly aimed at the continental United States. Can you say “Duck and Cover”?

Wynne becomes a courier for Penkovsky, a Soviet GRU intelligence agent, whose unmarked packages were said to include photographs of secret locations of Cuban missile sites and other top-secret information.

The movie balances nicely the dynamics of the nascent friendship of Wynne and Pentkovsky, as well as the relationships of each man with his wife and children.

“The Courier” is bolstered by a preface that states the movie is based on a true story and an epilogue that purports that approximately 5,000 pieces of information was provided by Pentkovsky to Wynne.

One gets the sense that the information provided by the courier, combined with United States’ U2 spy plane photographs of Cuban missile sites, and U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s ultimatum to Communist Party Secretary and Soviet Union Leader Nikita Khrushchev, is believed to have thwarted deployment of nuclear weapons.

“The Courier” is a traditional Hollywood-style thriller, with the requisite bad guys (that would be Khrushchev and his minions), good guys (that would be Wynne, the British MI6 and the U.S. CIA), and those caught in between (that would be the families of Wynne and Penkovsky).

Director Dominic Cooke (director, “On Chesil Beach,” 2017), working from a screenplay by Tom O’Connor (“The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” 2017) builds the tension deliberately and effectively.

The cinematography by Director of Photography Sean Bobbitt (“12 Years A Slave,” 2013) creates a brown-hued and blue-gray de-saturated world that says: Cold War.

The music by composer Abel Korzeniowski uses piano accompanied by strings to augment the plot’s tension.

In a symbolic scene, Wynne and Penkovsky attend the ballet. A performance of “Swan Lake” (Act IV Finale) unfolds. Tchaikovsky’s score undergirds the tragic nature of their pairing.

One enjoyable aspect of “The Courier” is the production design by Suzie Davies (Oscar nominee, “Mr. Turner,” 2014) and costume design by Keith Madden for a seemingly accurate depiction of Great Britain, circa 1960 in cars (including a vintage Jaguar), clothes (Men in hats. Women in pearls.), drinking (straight scotch, apparently) and cigarette smoking (lots of it). Archival black and white footage of JFK giving speeches about the Soviet threat and missile crisis shown on the television screens adds to the verisimilitude.

Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange, “Avengers: Endgame,” 2019; Oscar actor nominee, “The Imitation Game,” 2014; “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” 2011) masters the stiff upper lip under a mustache, as well as a stiff upper walk, right out of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. His transformation in the film’s third act gives Daniel Day-Lewis a run for the awards in terms of brave and intense acting.

Memorable in supporting roles are Rachel Brosnahan (TV’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” 2017-21) as Emily Donovan, a CIA agent; Jessie Buckley as Wynne’s wife, and Angus Wright as Dickie Franks, an MI6 agent.

If you’re a fan of spy thrillers and especially if you lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, don’t miss “The Courier.”

“The Courier,”

MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for violence, partial nudity (a male prisoner), brief strong language, and smoking throughout; Genre: Thriller; Run Time: 1 hr., 52 min.; Distributed by Roadside Attractions.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

“The Courier” was released on Greville Wynne’s birthday of March 19. Wynne was born in 1919 and died Feb. 28, 1990. Documentary interview footage of Wynne is shown at the closing credits. “The Courier” was filmed in Prague, The Czech Republic, and Pinewood Studios, London, England.

At The Movies:

“The Courier” was seen at AMC Center Valley 16, The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, Upper Saucon Township. Online ticketing, face-mask wearing, social distancing in seats and hand sanitizer locations are among the COVID-19 safety protocol in effect.

The Movie Tavern Trexlertown and Regal Cinemas were scheduled to reopen April 2. The Frank Banko Cinemas, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks, has been open weekends since Feb. 20. AMC Classic Allentown 16 is open. Pennsylvania increases capacity for movie theaters to 75 percent April 4.

Movie Box Office,

March 26-28: Bob Odenkirk is Hollywood’s latest action hero as “Nobody,” with TV’s “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” star in the title role, opening at No. 1 with $6.7 million on 2,460 screens, ending the three-week No. 1 run of “Raya and the Last Dragon,” dropping to No. 2 with $3.5 million, on 2,212 screens, $28.3 million, four weeks.

3. “Tom and Jerry” dropped one place, $2.5 million, on 2,464 screens, $37.1 million, five weeks. 4. “Chaos Walking” dropped one place, $1.1 million, on 2,036 screens, $11.4 million, four weeks. 5. “The Courier” dropped two places, $1 million, on 1,641 screens, $3.4 million, two weeks. 6. “The Croods: A New Age” dropped one place, $540,000, on 1,319 screens, $55.9 million, 18 weeks. 7. “The Marksman” stayed in place, $375,000, on 851 screens, $14.7 million, 11 weeks. 8. ”Boogie” dropped two places, $340,000, on 1,028 screens, $3.8 million, four weeks. 9. “Minari” (six Oscar nominations) moved into the Top 10 with $275,000, on 912 screens, $1.6 million, seven weeks. 10. “Wonder Woman 1984” dropped two places, $245,000, on 1,128 screens, $45.8 million, 14 weeks. 20. “The War with Grandpa,” co-starring Allentown’s Oakes Fegley, dropped two places, $74,473, on 338 screens, $21 million, 25 weeks, which is the longest-running movie now in the Top 25.


April 2

“Godzilla vs. Kong,”

PG-13: Adam Wingard directs Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Eliza Gonzalez and Demian Bichir in the Action, Science-Fiction Thriller. The epic monsters are in an epic battle.

“French Exit,”

R: Azazel Jacobs directs Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts and Imogen Poots in the Comedy Drama. A Manhattan socialite moves to Paris.

“Every Breath You Take,”

R: Vaughn Stein directs Michelle Monaghan, Casey Affleck, Sam Clafin, Emily Alyn Lind, India Eisley and Lily Krug in the Thriller. A psychiatrist’s life is impacted by his wife’s brother.

“The Girl Who Believes in Miracles,”

PG: Richard Correll directs Austyn Johnson, Mira Sorvino, Kevin Sorbo and Peter Coyote in the Family Drama. A young woman takes God at His word.

“The Unholy,”

PG-13: Evan Spiliotpoulos directs Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Cary Elwes, Katie Aselton and William Sadler in the Horror film. A hearing-impaired girl is visited by the Virgin Mary. People flock to witness her miracles.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS From left: Benedict Cumberbatch (Greville Wynne, the courier), Angus Wright (Dickie Franks, MI6 agent), Rachel Brosnahan (Emily Donovan, CIA agent). “The Courier.”