Movie Review: The Courier

In Articles, Culture, Music & Movies by Steven Sukkau

The Courier is a gripping story of an ordinary man thrust into an unimaginable situation. It has a lot to say about sacrifice, courage and calling – things all men deeply desire in their lives.

Businessman Geville Wynne found himself neck-deep in espionage during one of the tensest eras of modern history: The Cuban Missile Crisis.

However, the reason he was ever involved was not because of a background in counterintelligence or the military field that might produce a James Bond lookalike, but rather because he was so far from the usual candidate.

Initially recruited because of his unassuming nature as an unwitting salesman, his life and career put him in the center of the Cold War as he ferried Soviet secrets to the West while going through the motions of seemingly innocuous business trips to Moscow.

However, when it becomes clear to his CIA and MI6 handlers that their Russian source, Oleg Penkovsky, has been discovered, Wynne convinces them to help him make one last deceptive business trip to help the doomed traitor defect to safety with his family.

The Power of Mission

What’s interesting here is the depiction of Wynne, a sort of everyman approaching middle age, out of shape and drinking a bit too much. When his government needs him, he even tries to dodge the phone call, telling his wife, “Tell them I’m already in my chair.”

I think most guys can relate. We work hard during the day, provide for our family, and just want to be left alone after we’ve clocked out.

This rut – this beaten down, subdued version of manhood – has its drawbacks, obviously, yet is probably too common.

However, when the mission begins to heat up, even his wife notices a change. Her husband begins exercising, he begins to pay more attention to her – there is a passion inside him again.

As a man watching The Courier, it’s easy to resonate with that deep desire for an important mission that requires our courage, calling, and sacrifice. Wynne’s life was comfortable as he played golf with clients, indulged in his favourite vices from time to time, and enjoyed the middle-class lifestyle. But that easiness led to an indiscretion that almost ended his marriage.

Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, explains it best:

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

Writer Benjamin Hardy notes that Frankl’s observation came from his time as a concentration camp prisoner, adding “the moment a person lost a sense of purpose for their life, the present became meaningless and their suffering became too unbearable for them to go on. We need a sense of purpose to survive.”1

No matter how much we seek comfort and ease, we as men know deep down we’re called to something more. Even just reading about calling stirs something in a man’s soul, and we feel the tension between leaning in and pulling back.

No matter how much we seek comfort and ease, we as men know deep down we’re called to something more.

That’s what you see on film, as Wynne becomes more authentically himself when he takes on the responsibility of doing the right thing.

It’s this truth that his CIA handler voices when Wynne initially waffles on taking on the duplicitous business trips:

See, here’s the problem for you. Your house is a 12-minute drive from your office, ten minutes if you really push, right? And you’re usually out on a sales call anyway, so you’re not getting back to Sheila in time. And Andrew’s school, that’s nine minutes from your house, 15 from your office, and no one’s getting to him either. He’ll get herded into the school basement. I looked up the building plans. That’s a sorry excuse for a fallout shelter. Same with your basement, actually. Only the government has decent shelters. What do you do? Hmm? You can spend those four minutes trying to get Sheila on the phone, but you won’t be able to get through. Or you can think about how you might have helped stop this from happening… but you didn’t. And then, that’s it.2

Wynne leaves, but his CIA handler predicts correctly, “He’ll do it.”3

Wynne’s wife, too, comes to see her husband in a new light when she discovers his spy activities. At first, she doubts whether Wynne is faithful to her, and, being unable to tell her the full truth, their relationship suffers.

But when **SPOILER ALERT ** Wynne finds himself in a Russian prison under suspicion of espionage, Sheila Wynne steels herself for a long emotional battle to support her husband and be a source of strength while he endures an agonizing and uncertain future.

When The Call Comes, What Will You Do?

Courage, calling, and sacrifice bring out surprising qualities in Wynne, transform his marriage, and ultimately bring about the “potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled”4 in the Wynne’s lives. And I think if we’re honest, this is what we all secretly long for, even as we fear it.

But as Hardy says, “If we stay in our comfort zone, we begin to shrivel inside.”5

“If we stay in our comfort zone, we begin to shrivel inside.”

Happiness cannot be attained by wanting to be happy – it must come as an unintended consequence of working for a goal greater than oneself. -Viktor Frankl6

I love this quote from Frankl and how it contrasts with our usual understanding of happiness.

As Christian men, we can often confuse our Sunday morning prescription of being a “good guy” with the radical calling, courage, and sacrifice Christ patterns for us.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26

Sometimes we look around and wonder why our journey alongside Christ feels flat or uninspired. Perhaps it is because you’ve heard the call and yelled from the other room, “I’m already in my chair.”7

But when the call comes – a mission that will require our courage and sacrifice – and you know what’s at stake, becoming your best self for your family and community, may it be that Christ will say knowingly about you: “He’ll do it.”8

2 The Courier, movie dialogue
3 Ibidem
4 Ibidem
5 Ibidem
7 The Courier, movie dialogue
8 Ibidem

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Steven Sukkau
Steven Sukkau is a writer, journalist and radio broadcaster living on the Canadian prairies with his wife, two daughters and hyperactive terrier.
Steven Sukkau
Steven Sukkau is a writer, journalist and radio broadcaster living on the Canadian prairies with his wife, two daughters and hyperactive terrier.