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The Courier Review

The Courier Review
8 10

Previously reviewed at Sundance 2020 under the title Ironbark. 

PLOT: Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), a middle-aged businessman working in London circa 1960, is approached by British Intelligence and the C.I.A to act as an intermediary between them and a Russian asset, Oleg Penkovsky (Mereb Ninidze), working deep in the Soviet Nuclear program.

REVIEW: There are so many great stories about the Intelligence community that are truly stranger than fiction. IRONBARK is certainly one of them, with some of the film’s craziest, hardest to believe twists all being based on things that happened, making this a compelling spy yarn that tells a story we should all know. In a very real way, the fate of the world hinged on the actions of a middle-aged English businessman and his friendship with a highly placed Russian mole, with them playing a pivotal role in the Cuban Missle Crisis I’d wager most of us know nothing about.

Benedict Cumberbatch ironbarkThe best way to enjoy IRONBARK is by not looking up Greville Wynne or Oleg Penkovsky on Wikipedia as some of the film’s most devastating moments will be spoiled. I went in relatively ignorant to this side of the story as was riveted throughout. While undoubtedly a harsh depiction of the grim realities of being caught-up in espionage, at its heart its an optimistic story about two good men separated by politics but united by a desire to make the world a legitimately better place. It’s a lesson we should all be reminded of now and then.

Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as the initially bumbling Wynne. A total amateur without any ties whatsoever to the world of espionage, he’s plucked out of nowhere solely because he has some knowledge of Eastern European affairs, and has a vague enough job that he could credibly be visiting the Soviet Union for business. His early scenes are played for laughs, with Cumberbatch working overtime to remind us that he’s just a normal guy, with a family to support, bills to pay, and no delusions of glory. We see him gradually develop a rapport and then close friendship with Mereb Ninidze’s Penkovsky, and it’s their relationship that gives the film a beating heart that distinguishes it from other spy thrillers.

The supporting cast is also considerably more fleshed out than usual, with Rachel Brosnahan as the driven but compassionate CIA caseworker involved in the scheme, while Angus Wright as British Intelligence agent Dickie Franks is not the stereotyped, cold-blooded english bureaucrat. His priority is making sure his countryman, Wynne, is safe throughout. He’s not an asset he’s willing to throw to the wolves no matter what the stakes are.

WILD ROSE breakout star Jessie Buckley also has a really good part as Wynne’s wife, with us getting some insight into exactly what the lied-to spruce has to go through when her husband disappears on trip after trip to Russia, leaving her to her suspicions, with the added wrinkle that Wynne has, in the past, had an affair.

It’s the compassionate, nuanced characterizations and top-shelf acting that makes IRONBARK a really good new entry to this genre, with director Dominic Cooke once again showing how well he handles an ensemble following his underrated ON CHESIL BEACH. It’s also relatively fast-paced, running a lean 110 minutes, with very little time wasted throughout - every scene feels essential and the pace never lags. All in all, it’s one of the most purely entertaining films to emerge (so far) out of this year’s crop of Sundance titles, and one that could very well be an awards play for Cumberbatch, who’s as good as he’s ever been in the lead.

Source: JoBlo.com

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