Movie reviews: 'The Courier' is a welcome addition to the Cold War genre
This image released by Roadside Attractions shows Merab Ninidze, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch in a scene from "The Courier." (Liam Daniel/Roadside Attractions via AP)
TORONTO -- > THE COURIER: 3 ½ STARS
“The Courier,” a new Benedict Cumberbatch Cold War drama now on PVOD, is the mostly true tale of how an unassuming British businessman helped prevent World War III.
“You must convince them you are an ordinary businessman,” he is told, “and nothing more than an ordinary businessman.”
Set in 1962, Cumberbatch is Greville Wynne, a buttoned-down Brit chosen by a joint task force, CIA agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) and MI6’s Bertrand (Anton Lesser), to go undercover and act as a courier between them and Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze). Wynne’s down-to-earth manner and the fact that he already was doing business in Eastern Europe made him a perfect undercover agent.
As presented, the job was simple. Travel to Moscow under the pretense of work, pick up a package from Penkovsky and return home. Of course, international intrigue is never that easy, particularly when the information they are passing back and forth is related to preventing a nuclear confrontation.
When the Americans learn that Russia has positioned nuclear warheads on Cuba it becomes a race to get Penkovsky to safety. Out of a sense of loyalty to his business partner-turned-friend, Wynne volunteers to make one more trip to Russia.
“The Courier” is an old-fashioned espionage drama that is more about relationships than it is about James Bond-style antics. Loyalty, betrayal and forgiveness go hand-in-hand in the complicated game of making the world a safer place and it is in its portrayal of those qualities that “The Courier” shines.
Wynne has several important relationships in the film. There is his wife, Jessie Buckley, bringing much to an underwritten role, and his handler Emily, but it is with Penkovsky that he truly bonds. Trust forms over dinners and even at the ballet, but it is their shared desire to prevent a war that binds them.
Cumberbatch brings much to the role, allowing true feelings to slip past Wynne’s stiff-upper-lip. It’s subtle yet commanding work that steers the film past its grey-ish, icy façade to a place where the cloak-and-dagger story becomes driven by feelings and not intrigue.
Cumberbatch‘s wouldn’t be nearly as effective if he didn’t have such a strong actor playing Penkovsky. Ninidze plays the Russian as an idealogue, a man convinced his country is playing a very dangerous game with the world, It’s a quietly powerful performance, one where what he doesn’t say is as important as what he does say. Ninidze nails it, playing a man whose every move could have massive consequences for him and his family.
“The Courier” is a welcome addition to the Cold War genre.
THE SEVENTH DAY: 2 STARS
Father Peter (Guy Pearce) is a priest with a past I the new exorcism drama “The Seventh Day,” now on VOD.
The rough-and-tumble holy man comes complete with Sonny Crockett stubble, a fistful of smokes and a muscle car. He’s a badass who says, “An exorcist doesn’t hide from evil. He runs TOWARD it, feels the evil in his bones and can sense when it’s close.”
He stands in stark contrast to his latest protégé, novice priest Father Daniel (Vadhir Derbez). The trainee does not have his mentor’s swagger and Father Peter is less than impressed with Daniel‘s “two grueling weeks of exorcist nursery school.”
Nonetheless, the duo are a team, buddy exorcists off in search of evil to expunge. After a run in with the devil at a homeless encampment they come across Charlie (Brady Jenness), a pre-teen who murdered his family with an axe. Is he a bad kid or is he possessed by the devil?
“The Seventh Day” starts strong with the exorcism gone wrong that formed Father Peter’s hardened exterior. “The evil was the strongest I’ve ever seen,” he says. Unfortunately, after that it goes downhill faster than you can say “Father Karras” three times fast. The mix-and-match of “Training Day” with “The Exorcist” could have offered up some edgy thrills but instead falls prey to clichés borrowed from dozens of other devil movies dating back to when Father Merrin first bellowed, “The power of Christ compels you!”
Pearce, who also co-produced, attempts to inject some life into “The Seventh Day” with a big hammy performance but his flamboyance is counter-balanced by flat work from Derbez whose work mimics the film’s listless pacing.
“The Seventh Day” seeks to reinvent the exorcism movie via the buddy cop genre but succeeds only in combing the most hackneyed bits of each.
THE VIOLENT HEART: 3 STARS
It’s difficult to know how to classify “The Violent Heart,” a new movie on VOD starring Emmy nominee Jovan Adepo and Grace Van Patten. It’s part “Romeo & Juliet,” part thriller and mostly melodrama. Director Kerem Sanga juggles the movie’s tonal shifts to create a movie about the aftershocks of trauma.
Set in the American heartland, the story centers around twenty-four-year-old Daniel (Jovan Adepo), a small-town mechanic struggling to move forward with his life after the murder of his sister, which he witnessed, and a stint in jail for accidentally blinding a schoolmate. When 18-year-old high school student Cassie (Grace Van Patten) drops off her dad’s (Lukas Haas) car to the autobody shop, sparks fly and romance blossoms.
Despite her parent’s disapproval the young couple bring out the best in one another, sharing secrets as Cassie encourages Daniel to follow his dream of joining the Marines. Both are looking to the future but soon learn tragic lessons on how the past has a nasty way of sneaking up from behind.
“The Violent Heart” never really gets the pulse racing, but is made compelling by the chemistry between the two charismatic leads, Adepo and Van Patten.
Adepo exposes Daniel’s deep wounds, psychological trauma that manifests itself in angry outbursts.
“You start to not even notice it,” he says of his deeply rooted ire. “You just kind of become an angry person.” Still, he’s a work in progress, with his eyes locked on a better future. It’s an impressive, internal performance.
Van Patten is more external, a naïve young woman whose confidence is shaken by secrets and echoes from the past.
Together they are compelling, overcoming obstacles as a couple. But when “The Violent Heart” makes a hard U-Turn from star-crossed lovers into a detective story it loses itself in the plot’s twists and turns.
The supporting cast, including Mary J. Blige as Daniel’s mother and Haas as Cassie’s dad, do what they can with underwritten roles, but they’re mostly there to provide the puzzle pieces that complete the backstory of the leads.
“The Violent Heart” succumbs in the end to melodrama, but before the climax sucks the life out of the story, it is an interesting look at legacy and how the weight of the past can slowly crush a person’s spirit.