Benedict Cumberbatch gets himself embroiled in the Cuban Missile Crisis in The Courier, a dramatisation of the true story of Greville Wynne, a British businessman recruited by MI6 to smuggle Soviet secrets provided by high-ranking GRU officer Oleg Penkovsky. It’s a film that offers pleasures in its performances and in the telling of a story you likely haven’t heard, but its storytelling is often banal and sometimes unclear, and, José contends, it’s full of tricks and tropes that are just there for effect – and often not very good ones. Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, set in a similar period of the Cold War and also telling a true story of a citizen’s recruitment to engage in an overseas mission, is an obvious point of comparison, and perhaps The Courier‘s greatest gift is that its mediocrity helps to show off just how assured and polished is Spielberg’s cinematic technique, even if the ideological purposes to which he puts it leave us rolling our eyes.
The Courier isn’t a terrible film, and its performances do make it worth a look… but it isn’t a very good film, either.
Spielberg. Streep. Hanks. Nixon. A political thriller that adopts some clichés and slightly sidesteps some expectations, The Post is a historical drama that follows the internal conflict at the Washington Post during the Pentagon Papers scandal. We find plenty to talk about in its parallels with the Trump White House and the current President’s attacks on the news media; its careful but stilted style; its relationship to the 70s cinema it evokes; its central figure of a woman out of place in a world of men; and the balance between its nationalistic boosterism of the US Constitution and American exceptionalism on the one hand, and on the other, its surprisingly direct denunciation of the powers that be in Washington. You can literally hear Mike learning about the Nixon era, live!
Also discussed: Mike loves Bridge of Spies, José doesn’t love Bridge of Spies, Mike thinks Spotlight is uniquely brilliant, José espouses his theory on Meryl Streep’s stardom, and old people are pricks.
The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.