The Courier: a realistic look at espionage

Gretchen Lee—Staff Writer 

Sometimes I forget that spies are not purely fictional.

In a world that romanticizes spies in literature and film, it is easy to forget there are real people who smuggled secrets and stole information for the sake of their country. The Courier is an excellent reminder of this, and a stark show of the reality behind the romanticism we usually see on screen.

Based on the true story of Greville Wynn, The Courier follows an average businessman from London during the Cold War as he is recruited to carry secrets to and from a turncoat Russian politician, Oleg Penkovsky. As the Cuban Missile Crisis arises, both men are forced to make difficult decisions and take terrible personal risks in order to stop a war and the annihilation of both Russia and the United States. 

To put it frankly, this story is beautiful in its ugliness. Narratively, it is well-written and quite poetic in the way it draws emotion from the audience. However, the story itself is gritty, showing a dark, dangerous part of world history through the eyes of an average, everyday person who is drawn into a situation that is anything but average. Both Oleg and Greville struggle to figure out how far they are willing to go to help their countries while still managing the risks to their families if they are caught. Throughout the movie, their familial stakes are continually raised, and their personal needs are pitted even further against the needs of the many in a way that makes the climax of the film carry intense emotional weight. This is why a quieter, less action-packed climax works so well in this movie and works in a way I have not seen executed quite as nicely in other films. The end of the movie isn’t exactly happy, or wrapped nicely in a bow, but it does have a somewhat satisfying resolution while still being true to history. 

Contributed Photo

Structurally and technically speaking, The Courier is nearly flawless. Framing and music are placed hand-in-hand in a way that allows the audiences to understand where the characters are both physically and mentally without them even having to speak. Wide shots are utilized with Oleg and Greville to give a sense of “aloneness,” isolating them and making them look smaller on screen helps the audience feel the weight on their shoulders. Closer shots on objects and hands play into the secrecy of what the main characters are attempting to carry out. Having certain actors placed physically above other characters in certain scenes shows how all of the events of this movie are happening right under the noses of very powerful and dangerous men. These tactics reminds viewers that Oleg and Greville could be caught at any moment. Overall, the filming of this movie is very artistically done and sets the script up to pack a hefty punch.

This movie is sad, but an excellent portrayal of historical events. The characters feel very real, helping break the disconnect moviegoers sometimes feel between themselves and characters on the screen, particularly in spy movies. Although the ending hurt, it still had a note of lightness that felt realistic without being a completely unhappy ending.

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