The spy drama THE SPY Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, it tells the true story of an unusual, risky friendship that prevented the Cold War from escalating further. We’ll reveal in our review whether it’s worth seeing.
OT: The Courier (UK/USA 2020)
The Soviet Union took an increasingly aggressive course in the nuclear arms race during the Cold War. The Russian Colonel Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) therefore contacts the American authorities. He is willing to share information regarding his homeland’s nuclear potential. However, unsurprisingly, the exchange of information turns out to be extremely sensitive: Penkovsky runs a great risk of being exposed by the KGB through the usual channels. Only a collaboration between the CIA and MI6 promises hope: they want to involve the inconspicuous businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) in their mission. He has already done business in Eastern Europe without any complications. An expansion into Moscow would not raise suspicion – and would give him the option to serve as a secret courier who would provide the Western powers with Penkovsky’s knowledge. But can the inexperienced Wynne handle this important task?
Benedict Cumberbatch is something like the silent godfather of modern, calm spy cinema. He had a supporting role in “Queen, King, Ace, Spy”, the potential premier of the dramatic, decelerated spy cinema of the 2010s. And then he took on the leading role in “The Imitation Game,” which is primarily a biopic about the mathematician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist Alan Turing. But since the film focuses on the period in which the British struggle to decipher coded messages from the Nazis during World War II, it can also be seen as a spy film. With “The Spy,” Cumberbatch essentially combines the two films mentioned above: Like “Queen, King, Ace, Spy,” “The Spion” (as the USA film title makes unmistakably clear) deals in detail with espionage work, which is described here in realistic, everyday terms . No explosive gadgets like James Bond, no dizzying stunts like Mission: Impossible. Instead, it’s about paperwork, taciturn meetings, the smallest gestures, hidden data exchange and lots and lots of planning. And more waiting. And like “The Imitation Game,” this is not true-to-life fiction of the “Queen, King, Ace, Spy” brand, but rather the fictionalized dramatization of a true story.
CIA agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) and businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch).
But “The Spy” lacks the uniqueness of these two comparison films. It is neither as emotionally charged as the biopic about the man to whom we have computers to thank and who kept his sexuality hidden, nor is it such a delicately told, precisely threaded slow-burn suspense film as the one starring Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy, among others Adaptation of a novel by John le Carré. Instead, “The Spy” is a kind of blueprint for the decelerated spy cinema, the unplanned average, what happens when you give the films already mentioned, Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”, “The Agent” with Diane Kruger and Co. the unique selling points filed away. On the one hand, this is due to the capable, but also characterless, routine direction of Dominic Cooke (“At the beach”) this drama unfolds. The film’s imagery is entirely atmospheric, but Cooke and cameraman Sean Bobbitt choose it (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) a very obvious lighting and color aesthetic that lacks esprit. Brown for the dusty, rigid, bureaucratic Western powers, icy blue-gray filters for the cool Soviet Union. Such simple color tricks are commonplace, and many excellent films about the Cold War used similar methods, but films like “Bridge of Spies” add an additional dimension to their aesthetics. “The Spy”, on the other hand, rests on a solid, calm level – only when Greville Wynne’s uneasy feelings overcome him in the cramped rooms in the third act does Cooke expand the imagery further and put us in the shoes of the title hero.
“’The Spy’ is a kind of blueprint for the decelerated spy cinema, the unplanned mean, what happens when you strip away the unique selling points of the films already mentioned, Steven Spielberg’s ‘Bridge of Spies’, ‘The Agent’ with Diane Kruger and Co .”
“The Spy” also needs time to gain a foothold in terms of narrative: Greville Wynne is introduced as an interchangeable, boring person with a subtle drinking problem – other character traits only reveal themselves later. What may have been intended as a “Greville Wynne only shows his true face when he is tense – paradoxically, when he has to cover up the truth” trick, however, does not work in Tim O’Connor’s script. Instead, we encounter a protagonist blueprint that raises the question of where she gets the courage and conviction to get involved in this espionage job. Although generic reasons are given, Wynne’s motivations are not realized and made understandable. This reduces the height of the film, and so it takes until Wynne and his informant become friends for “The Spy” to find an emotional core. However, he is convincing, thanks to Cumberbatch’s delicate playing and a nuanced acting Merab Ninidze.
Greville Wynne is inconspicuousness personified.
Conclusion: “The Spy” is solid, but also inconspicuous, almost interchangeable spy cinema of the quiet kind. Big fans of “Bridge of Spies”, “Queen, King, Ace, Spy” and Co. get a competent, if not very memorable, fix of that here offered that they like. Everyone else only looks in if they are Cumberbatch completists.
“The Spy” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 1, 2021.