The Courier (2020)
PG-13, but almost because it is historical. I'm not saying that The Courier is an offensive movie in any way. But I'm also saying that it gets a free pass from the MPA for being a movie for history nuts. It has nudity and torture. I'm sure if it was a contemporary film with a slightly different tone, it would have gotten an R-Rating, but I don't mind the PG-13 rating either. I suppose you can throw in alcoholism and adultery into the questionable content area too, but it's mostly about nudity and torture. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Dominic Cooke
How has everyone seen this movie already? I hadn't seen a trailer for this movie. I just knew that people were seeing the new Benedict Cumberbatch movie, The Courier. I mean, why did I watch it? I don't regret it. It's just a matter of me watching something because people had said that they had seen it. I don't even remember if they gave me their opinion of the movie. I just remember everyone telling me that they had just seen this film. I didn't even know that many movies were showing during the pandemic, but apparently this one did. Am I watching movies just to say that I've watched them at this point? Am I a vapid shell of a human being? Man, I hope I discover some kind of personal truth while writing about a movie that will probably get forgotten to history pretty quickly.
The thing is, I love the Cold War from an academic perspective. I have a history minor and there's so much out there. But I find the Cold War to be absolutely fascinating. I want to go off on a tirade about how we're basically in a Cold War right now, but that is not the point of this blog. But even as a Cold War nut, can I question how tired I am about the same movies getting made over and over again? This sentence alone makes me a monster. Here I am, sitting behind my computer in absolute comfort, and I can't even appreciate the fact that Greville Wynne totally deserves a biopic about his life. It's just that...I feel like I've seen this movie a dozen times. Heck, it's just Argo for the Cold War. And I don't even mind that. But it also blows my mind that studios keep making these kinds of movies. And the they always have the same result They either become complete Oscar bait or completely forgotten to history. These aren't bad movies. There's not one thing in The Courier that doesn't really work (despite my wife's insistence that the movie was getting longer as we were watching it). It's a fine movie that really just pulls from the subgenre for years.
You may have read a cynical edge to what I've just written. Trust me, I hate me too. It's just that a lot of this film feels like it was resting on the shoulders of films that we've seen before. At least it isn't the John LeCarre style films. I know that people love those kinds of movies. The Courier is the Cold War that I'm interested in. *and it is in this moment that I realize what the core value of this film is. Let's explore it together!* Why I find the Cold War so fascinating is because it was complex, yet affected everyone. Civilization became a mask. We pretended that there was something normal to go back to. With World War II, there was this active shift from routine to the war effort. While there were reminders that there was a normal to be found, ultimately people were majorly affected and acted like it. Because no one was firing guns yet, people put on this show of normalcy. But it was a show. Greville Wynne could be the mascot for what the Cold War was all about. He was so boring and normal. He was a representative of Capitalism, a businessman who didn't let politics affect his career. But there came a point where the acknowledgment of being apolitical is, indeed, a political statement is what hits the character.
There's a cool shift in Greville. (I'm going to call him by his first name because his name is actually "Greville", which is what I imagine a British name was if I didn't speak any English and I had to make one up.) Greville takes this dangerous gig to give himself a sense of importance. He's such a little man who is kind of pathetic. His wife, Sheila, doesn't realize that his lack of ambition is what makes him attractive and he resorts to affairs. In an attempt to settle himself as something larger, he accepts this low-stakes gig to get a sense of grandeur. (It's probably what I would do if the core values aligned with my own enough.) But Greville, while being placed in Moscow, sees the world from beyond his blinders. The world is a far more fragile place than what our small view allows it to see. (I'm connecting it to today.) It's when he sees real people and how his choices affect others that he becomes genuinely heroic. He never views himself as heroic. He's always just Greville Wynne, businessman. (I'm not sure what exactly he sells besides general industrialization.) But it is in his embrace and acceptance that things aren't normal that he kind of steps up to the plate. He realizes that the mask is actually that of businessman.
Everyone kind of sees that business in Russia is a mask, but no one really directly addresses it. By Greville going to Moscow, he's pretending that all of these atrocities aren't happening for the sake of money. Perhaps he can justify it by saying it is the government and not the people, but he's interacting with government officials almost exclusively. It's only once he's captured do people question why he was in Russia. It actually makes more sense for him to be a spy in Russia than it is for him to pretend like sales is a thing in the face of nuclear annihilation. All of this leads me to the moment that I absolutely adore, and that's the relationship with Oleg / Alex. (I like how they had to nickname him "Alex" because there were too many Olegs in the movie.) There's this friendship that stems out of mutual admiration. They both view each other as heroes, despite the fact that at least Greville doesn't view himself as a hero. But there's this moment in the prison where Greville reveals that they stopped the Cuban Missile Crisis through their efforts and both men realize the sheer scope of their small meetings. Everything that may have seemed minor gets this grandiose meaning to it.
So as much as this movie has been made before, it's pretty good. I can't help but get on my soapbox a little bit and comment that I can see why this movie is necessary today. The world is more political than it has been in my lifetime. Maybe I'm just almost 40 and I've chosen a side, but politics are fundamental to the way things are done today. To pretend that you want to leave politics out of things is a way of saying that you don't care about the outcome of other people. Greville Wynne honestly started this whole story by wearing a tie clip to help his govenrnment in a dangerous time and it led to him ending the Cuban Missile Crisis. I can't help but think that I'm constantly seeing anti-mask and anti-vax memes and that I'm not supposed to say anything about it. It's choosing to help the other that matters in these moments, not the self. Okay, it was a weak soap box, but it got my point across.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.