Benedict Cumberbatch’s plays an English businessman, Greville Wynne who is recruited by Emily Donovan and Dickie Franks (Rachel Brosnahan and Angus Wright) members of the US C.I.A and British M-16 receive information from a Russian spy. His adventure and relation with Russian Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) his Russian contact.
The background for the film is the Cuban Missile in 1962 in which the Russians lead by Nikita Khrushchev attempted to establish an offensive missile base in Cuba 90 mines from Florida. That world wide tension flows into Wynne’s life when the magnitude of the Russian action is uncovered.
The Courier follows Wynne who has been chosen because he is good with people and can drink. First he resists but eventually gives in to the espionage game which he plays very well with Russian colonel Penkovsky. Penkovsky is seriously concerned that the actions contemplated by his country will lead to a nuclear war. That motivation may have been vital in the resolution of the missile crisis in which President Kennedy forced the Russians to remove the initial structures for the missiles from Cuba. Politically it became a victory for Kennedy and a serious embarrassment for Khrushchev.
In the atmosphere of the cold war Wynne regularly meet and exchange secret Russian plans for the missile proposed locations.
Wynne is assured by his handlers that he will not be caught and they can get him out of Russia if necessary. When it becomes necessary all does not go well.
The performances of the two men are compelling, each believes in what he is attempting to do particularly Penkovsky who becomes a spy against his own nation, a difficult action for a longtime soviet insider. He is smooth in his actions but the tension is constantly visible on his face. Cumberbatch begins as a carefree happy salesman and appears to enjoy his new activity but tension fills his expressions and life when the smooth relationship is in question.
Cumberbatch must also deal with captivity as did the real Greville Wynne, which requires a totally transformation of his character. In each instance Cumberbatch effectively draws the audience into his edgy existence throughout and that makes the film an excellent thriller.