The Courier (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Courier (2012)

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I became convinced watching The Courier that there were some script conferences between writers Brannon Coombs and Pete Dris with director Hany Abu-Assad.  There are two distinctly different action films on display here.  One takes place in a nightmarishly cartoonish underworld where people sell illict goods for angrily spiritual kicks.  The other, which wins out the struggle, is about a torn apart town that can barely rouse the interest to protect themselves.

The bad news is that the presence of one brings down the other.  But the great news is, for a time, both methods of presentation work incredibly well.  These elements help to raise The Courier above its other direct-to-DVD siblings and the whole films came as a very nice surprise in an otherwise dreary year for action films.

Director Hany Abu-Assad makes great use of the New Orleans setting in a number of small background details and nicely detailed compositions.

The Courier stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the titular courier.  He’s an illegal errand boy who is every bit as tired of his job as Liam Neeson is chillingly effective at his.   The premise, especially during the hastily edited opening sequence, feels a bit too familiar after a trio of Transporter films and the previously alluded to Taken.  The Courier makes a splashy rescue of a banker’s daughter and then is approached by some shadowy figures who threaten his best friend’s family.

I was set to start rolling my eyes but director Abu-Assad answers a question I didn’t even know was percolating around my head – what happens to action heroes after a disaster?  The movie starts sometime after Hurricane Katrina in a New Orleans that has barely even started to recover from the storm.  There is a real sense of disconnect as the Courier wanders through the debris ridden streets, encountering few others, among the buildings that are barely held together with webs.  Abu-Assad does not mention the storm directly, but you can see it in the nearly empty casinos  and amusement parks that dot the landscape.

It’s a lonely place, and Morgan’s performance is modulated perfectly to respond to it.  He’s not cut from super action cloth.  Instead he’s the hero who looks like he spent all night drinking away the storm with a bottle of whiskey and has the physicality to prove it.  The few fight scenes he’s involved in aren’t flashy at all, but tiring, painful affairs that leave cumulative scars on the hero.  I see so many films that show the hero’s effect on the environment but not as many where the reverse is true.  Morgan is just so weary in the role, able to rouse up respectable affection for his friend but having to force himself to do anything else.

Mark Margolis (left, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is one of those great character actors that perks the film right up as soon as he enters the frame.

The other performers vary in quality, from the superfluous (Josie Ho as the Courier’s love interest) to the equally effective (Mark Margolis as the friend in trouble.)  Margolis, especially, has been a magnificent performer to trot out anytime a film requires a bit of grounding.  For great examples of this, see any of his appearances in the films of his long-time associate Darren Aronofsky.  But Margolis plays such a magnificent foil to Morgan, instilling just enough sense of life into his otherwise depressing existence while not quite letting go of the truth that surrounds them.

There’s so much that’s done right in the film that the strange detours the screenplay takes are off putting, but also ask fun questions as to where the film could have gone.  The dialogue is purely functional and does little but advance the plot along yet allows time for a number of odd detours.  The strangest of these moments comes closer to the end when the Courier is being tortured by a pair of true believers who think that he can be brought to see the light of truth through the experience.  It’s one of the few moments where Abu-Assad allows the film to follow the dialogue down the rabbit hole and is just creepy enough to be effective.  Earlier scenes have an uneasy dichotomy between the realism of the setting and the occasional stab at the odd with the dialogue, but the couple of moments it works are good fun.

Truth in hindsight The Courier is just a little better than the sum of its parts which, taken on their own, could have been a boring disaster.  But the alchemy is right this time, and the disparaging elements coalesce into one of the only interestingly made action films of the year.

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The Courier (2012)

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad.
Screenplay written by Brannon Coombs and Pete Dris.
Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mark Margolis, and Josie Ho.

Posted by Andrew

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