The Courier is almost two films in one, directed by Dominic Cooke (On Chesil Beach) and written by Tom O’Connor: the second half is much darker and more violent than the first, but the change is so subtle that you barely notice it at first. That’s part of the film’s edgily entertaining artistry; what starts off as a shady espionage thriller ends in a place of mournful resignation.
The film is forthright about the less-than-glamorous side of espionage, namely, that it is a line of work in which human beings are often regarded as disposable pawns. And, beyond depicting the typical spy gear (including those mini cameras the size of a disposable lighter that still feel tiny and dangerous even in an era of digital information), the film’s somber mood is rooted in its photos.
Those tears are deeply convincing when it’s Cumberbatch, but it’s Ninidtze who steals the show. Ninidtze has a long list of IMDb credits, many of which are in European, English, and American television shows, and he starred in Caroline Link’s 2001 drama Nowhere in Africa. Overall, he tends to be a reliable go-to when you need a serious-looking Russian guy for casting purposes (as if there were any other kind).
But, after seeing him in The Courier, I’m hoping to see him in more films, and in larger roles. In his role as Alex Penkovsky, he carries an infinite range of emotions in his eyes: we see his worry for his family, his sense of duty for preventing nuclear war, and his tangled love for his country.