The Courier (2019)

The Courier first published (in a shorter version) in Sight & Sound, January 2020

Review: “No names,” says the woman (Olga Kurylenko) who has come to a building to deliver a package, “I’m just the courier.”

If this were a Ken Loach film (like, say, Sorry We Missed You, 2019), the anonymity of the courier would be tied in with her dehumanisation within a mechanised system of objectifying employment practices. Exploitation of a different kind, however, characterises The Courier, and our heroine’s refusal to give her name is part of her status as a former Black Ops soldier gone AWOL, and now working as a motorcycle courier in London while moonlighting as a masked crime-buster. All this is hinted in an opening-credits rapid montage of international newspaper headlines about special anti-terrorist operations in Syria, a lone vigilante in London, and the arrest of ruthless American real estate tycoon Ezekiel Mannings (Gary Oldman). This is an economic way of delivering parcels of information (not that it stops practically every character subsequently conversing in fluent Exposition-ese), and points towards a convergence of different storylines to drive the film forward. Pace is everything here, as the film rapidly cross-cuts between New York where Ezekiel is under house arrest awaiting possible life imprisonment, Washington D.C. where a crucial closed court session is unfolding, and London where the Courier will chance upon an attempt by an armed and highly trained unit of Ezekiel’s employees permanently to silence the sole witness, Nick Murch (Amit Shah). Supposed to be the patsy for this hit, now the Courier finds herself locked with Nick in the building’s underground car park as a private army tries to kill them in the hour before hopefully less corruptible federal agents arrive. 

Ezekiel is an amalgam of cartoon villainy, allowing Oldman to return to the brand of bad (guy) acting last seen in Luc Besson’s Leon (1994): he is an aesthete, rapt in the opera (and techno) that he plays at high volume on vinyl; he sports facial scars and even a pirate’s eyepatch; and his background in New York real estate, penthouse view of Central Park and close attachment to his daughter (Calli Taylor) are all clearly meant to evoke the incumbent POTUS (although it seems improbable that the real Trump would hold to the expressly cited principles of Democratic rival Joe Biden on hunting, let alone murder his own staff). Meanwhile ex ‘Bond girl’ Kurylenko kicks ass in fetishised biker leathers against a motley crew of musclebound, tattooed masculinity, with an ironic smile that reminds us this is little more than a fun genre ride (with viciously gory kills). Think John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988), think Corey Yuen and Louis LeTerrier’s The Transporter (2002), think Simon West’s Con Air (1997) – slyly evoked by Ezekiel’s line, “Put the bottle back in the fucking bucket!” – but best not to think much at all, and just let the daft action and double-crossing paranoia of debuting director Zackary Adler’s slickly derivative no-name product drive your brains hard against the wall. 

Synopsis: With his daughter Alys, Ezekiel Mannings is under house arrest in New York. In London, a bike courier delivers a case to a secured building where US Federal Agent Simmonds and police protect Nick Murch, eyewitness to Ezekiel murdering an employee. Simmonds is a double-agent for Ezekiel, and after gassing the police is herself poisoned when the courier steals her gas mask and rescues Nick. Locked into the building’s carpark, Nick and the courier are hunted by armed mercenaries under command of Agent Bryant, who is in Ezekiel’s pay. The courier, who is an ex-Black Ops soldier gone AWOL after witnessing her brother’s death on a mission in Syria, takes out the mercenaries one by one. She and Nick flee to the rooftop, only to come under fire from a sniper. The courier hides injured Nick in a car, and is overpowered in a fight with the sniper. She wakes bound to a chair, with Bryant promising to have her run over (by the sniper) if Nick does not come out. Nick emerges, and the courier, having loosened her bonds, stabs Bryant in the arm. Sniper and courier fight with guns and then fists, before the courier stabs him in the neck with a broken windscreen wiper. Bryant is about to shoot Nick in the head, when the courier rams Bryant into the wall with a motorcycle. Bryant’s boss Agent Roberts, now also corrupted by Ezekiel, comes to kill Nick in hospital, but Nick and the courier ambush him.

Anton Bitel