The Courier: Film Review

The Courier

Lionsgate

I do love me a spy thriller and I certainly love films based on fascinating true stories, but sadly The Courier was a bit too dull to keep me fully engaged.

In this drama, based on real events, Benedict Cumberbatch plays British businessman Greville Wynne, who frequently flies to Eastern Europe. In 1960, he is recruited by MI6 to pretend to be the business partner of Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a Soviet military intelligence colonel, and transport top-secret information regarding the Soviet nuclear programme back to London, providing crucial intelligence which helped end the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Period espionage thrillers like these are largely made into TV series nowadays so I’m glad this one was made into a feature length film, because I found it pretty dull for a large part of the first hour so I don’t know how it would have been stretched out over several hours. It took a while to get going, I didn’t fully understand what was going on and I struggled to get into it or get invested in what was happening. I was never bored; I always curious about what was about to go down, but it just didn’t excite me or hook me in. Thankfully, my patience was rewarded and the film got more and more interesting as Wynne took more risks, the stakes got higher, and his visits to Russia felt increasingly more dangerous.

Cumberbatch is always a solid performer and he proved that once again with The Courier, once titled Ironbark. He gave a suitably nervy performance as a man who has to act like a normal salesman while under intense pressure. His commitment to the role actually shocked me – his physical transformation made me gasp; his weight loss was astounding. Cumberbatch and Ninidze deserve major kudos for their dedication to their parts.

I was worried Jessie Buckley‘s talents would be wasted in her supporting role as Wynne’s wife but thankfully her character had a lot to do and had some emotional heavy lifting that gave her the chance to shine. Elsewhere in the cast, I also liked Rachel Brosnahan as CIA agent Emily Donovan, who is working with MI6. She is professional but compassionate and cares about the people as well as the mission.

The Courier tells a terrific true story about remarkable men who ultimately smuggled more than 5,000 top-secret documents out of Russia. It’s a shame the film takes so long to get exciting but it really excels in the latter half.

In cinemas Friday 13th August

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Mauritanian: Film Review

The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian scored five BAFTA nominations – including Best Film and Outstanding British Film – but came away with none for the Oscars, which would suggest that it has gone down better with some voting bodies than others. Having now seen the film myself, I can understand the performance nominations but the film itself is lacking.

The film tells the story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim), who was detained in Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba without charge from 2002 until his release in 2016. He was suspected to be the head recruiter for 9/11 in Germany, a member of Al-Qaeda, and a friend of Osama Bin Laden. After a German newspaper reports that Salahi is imprisoned in “Gitmo” in February 2005, American lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) decide to take up his case and pursue habeas corpus proceedings so a court can determine if his detention is lawful. However, they face many obstacles, including criticism for representing a presumed terrorist and the military heavily redacting almost every piece of useful information they need.

The facts of what happened to Salahi make me angry, upset, and sick to my stomach, yet Kevin Macdonald‘s film didn’t make me feel those things. I should have come away feeling more emotional, more outraged, and frustrated but it didn’t evoke those feelings in me. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t completely unaffected by scenes depicting Salahi being tortured in disgusting inhumane ways – they were incredibly distressing and uncomfortable to watch – but the focus is largely on Hollander and her fight to get paperwork clearance to pursue his case rather than us getting to know Salahi. I found the ending slightly disappointing too – I thought we were going to watch the trial play out (the reason behind that soon makes sense, but the expectation was still there) and thought there would be more to it.

Rahim is astonishing in this role and thoroughly deserves his BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. He impressively portrays a person who is desperate, hopeless, losing the plot, and on their lowest ebb. He elevates the material and makes the torture scenes all the more devastating. Foster is well cast as the polished, professional and feisty Nancy, who has no issue standing up for a person’s right to legal representation, even if that person might be a terrorist. Woodley’s Teri is very different – she is morally conflicted about the case and is feeling the pressure. Benedict Cumberbatch provides solid support as military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, who stands by his morals and Christian beliefs when confronted with the distressing information he uncovers, with the reluctant help of his buddy Neil (Zachary Levi).

Given the subject matter, The Mauritanian is nowhere near as gripping as it should be. The story is shocking and interesting, no doubt about that, but the film itself didn’t reel me in; I had to make a conscious effort to concentrate on it. It reminded me a lot of 2019’s The Report – which deals with the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 – and that film handled the subject better.

On Amazon Prime Video from 1st April

Rating: 4 out of 5.

1917: Film Review

1917 won Best Drama and Best Director for Sam Mendes at the Golden Globes on Sunday and there’s a reason for that. I honestly didn’t think it was going to win over the likes of The Irishman but I was pleasantly surprised and I hope this love continues throughout awards season.

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The Current War: Film Review

I was looking forward to The Current War because I felt like it would fill a gap in my knowledge – I knew nothing about George Westinghouse and his involvement with the evolution of electricity – but the film only offers a potted history and I felt ambivalent about the whole thing.

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Top Films for July

It’s about to be the start of a new month, which means it’s time, once again, to look ahead to the films coming to UK cinemas this July.

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Doctor Strange: Film Review 

strange

I am usually ridiculously hyped for Marvel movies but I never was for Doctor Strange and I don’t know why. Maybe cos it’s so different to the others. I was hoping the movie itself would surpass my expectations but it didn’t. It was good, I liked it but I didn’t come out thinking ‘this is awesome’ like the others.

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Top Films for October

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It’s that time of the month – movie preview time! This October isn’t a massive month for releases to be honest, but that certainly makes my job of picking my recommendations much easier. Here we go:

American Honey

This is just a wonderful character study starring newcomer Sasha Lane, who is definitely one to watch. We follow her as she joins a ‘mag crew’ who travel the country selling magazines, she gets involved in their heavy drugs and drink lifestyle and has a sort-of relationship with Shia LaBeouf, who gives his strongest performance in years. It’s a tad too long but seriously life-affirming. Review on its way. Released: 14th October

War on Everyone 

Michael Pena and Alexander Skarsgard star in this brilliantly un-PC comedy about two crooked cops, who basically use their badges to steal drugs, money, etc and get away with it. The dialogue is hilarious; it is sharp, witty, and so, so wrong. Theo James also stars as their main villain. Released: Friday 7th October

 

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The Girl on the Train 

Okay, so this hasn’t received the stellar reviews we had all been expecting but I would still recommend you check it out. It is still good (just not amazing) – it is gripping, shocking and features an impressive performance from Emily Blunt, who plays an alcoholic who becomes involved in a missing person’s investigation. It also stars Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, with brilliant small appearances from Laura Prepon and Lisa Kudrow. Released today – you can read my review here.

Trolls

I do love a good children’s animation and I’m hoping this new musical featuring the voices of Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick is just the ticket. They play Branch and Poppy, who go on an adventure to save their town from the troll-eating bergens. I want this to be so much fun. Released: 21st October

 

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Doctor Strange 

Marvel is back WOOHOO! This time we are meeting Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a top surgeon who is put out of a job following a car accident. He encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who become his mentor in the mystic arts. It looks like an Inception-style superhero movie from the trailer and I’m very intrigued, though definitely not as excited as other MCU offerings. Released: 28th October

Keeping Up with the Joneses

The trailer for this action comedy really made me laugh so I’m hoping the rest of the movie will do the same. Isla Fisher and Zach Galifianakis star as the Gaffneys, a regular married couple, who end up involved in an espionage mission after discovering their neighbours The Joneses (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) are secret agents. This better be hilarious! Released: 28th October

My Top Ten: Zoolander 2 cameos

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Zoolander 2 has been out for a couple of weeks now but I have only just managed to see it. I generally agree with the reviews – it is not as good as the original one and at times it isn’t funny at all – but I think we can all agree the celebrity cameos were the most impressive thing about it (plus all the original cast returning).

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Top Films for February

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It’s the start of a new month which means my usual ‘what to watch’ list. Most of January’s list was comprised of the U.K. playing catch up with releases that had been out in the U.S. for months – but in February we finally get some actual 2016 movies like Deadpool and Zoolander 2. YAAAAY! Here’s my run-down of February highlights:

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Black Mass: Film Review

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I had been raring to see this for ages because it looked set to be Johnny Depp’s best performance in years and he is bloody amazing. He is virtually unrecognisable and absolutely terrifying. This is a total must-see for his performance alone.

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