Oh, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. You're a good actor. You do a pretty mean tough guy. You were one of the few good things about 'Watchmen.' Your absence is still felt as 'Supernatural' goes ever further into the rabbit hole. What I'm saying is: I'm a fan. But man do you make some bad project choices. You might be tempted to blame your agent for this, but even your agent can't be at fault for 'The Courier.' because you produced it! You shepherded it through production and you're really proud of it. And I hate to break it to you, Jeffrey, but 'The Courier' isn't any good.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as the Courier (you weren't expecting that, now were you?), a man who can get anything to anyone. Sort of like UPS, but with guns and women being tossed off of rollercoasters (yes, that happens). The Courier is blackmailed into delivering a suitcase to Evil Sivle, a legendary assassin who inspires fear throughout the underworld. The moment the Courier begins this task, people turn up dead, and the Courier's search becomes ever more dangerous. Still, in order to save those closest to him, the Courier can't stop his quest, no matter where it may lead him.
With a title like 'The Courier' and a plot synopsis like that, the inevitable comparison would be to 'The Transporter' series. However, those films cultivate a certain amount of chaotic action insanity that is wholly absent from 'The Courier.' Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as 'The Courier' opts to investigate the mind and motivations of the title character. Or that's what it wants to do, but the characterizations are weak. Morgan certainly has charisma, but his character isn't even interesting enough to be a poor man's Jason Statham (possibly because Jason Statham is frequently the poor man's Jason Statham).
Director Hany Abu-Assad, best known for his 2005 picture 'Paradise Now', marks his entry into the world of English-language films with 'The Courier'. As often happens with foreign directors coming to American shores, the transition is not entirely smooth. Abu-Assad seems incapable of striking a balance with his actors, who either overact or appear completely lifeless. In fact, the whole films feels devoid of tension. Morgan plays his character with a suave charm that feels completely out of line with the threat to those he cares for the most. It doesn't help that the other characters casually mention how the Courier is able to effortlessly hack into any database, turning what could be interesting scenes of information gathering into bland shots of Morgan tapping on a computer keyboard or employing phone apps with easy to use GUI's.
On the other hand, Josie Ho, who plays Anna, the Courier's new partner and awkward love interest, manages to play every scene with such a lack of grace and tact that it feels like she and Morgan are in two different films entirely. Her line readings seem to emphasize all the wrong things, and she can't rise above obvious melodrama. Even worse is Mickey Rourke completely slumming it in a role that I can only guess took six hours to shoot.
The only members of the cast who look at like they were having fun and hit the right tone are Lili Taylor and Miguel Ferrer as a pair of married assassins. Both accomplished actors in their own right, they seem to be here simply for the fun of torturing Jeffrey Dean Morgan, in what is easily the film's only tense sequence.
In the behind the scenes featurette, Morgan mentions that the idea behind 'The Courier' was to make a $30 million action film and turn it inwards. And it's probably a good thing that they didn't focus on the action elements, because the action is awful, with cheap and shoddy effects that ruin any attempt at believability. The film meanders for an hour and a half before coming to an unsatisfying anticlimax that I can only imagine was called the "exposition ending" in the script. Just because you're trying to internalize an action film doesn't mean you have to tell everything instead of showing it. In this and many other respects 'The Courier' just comes off as lazy.
'The Courier' is a brand new film shot in 4k using the Red One camera, so quite often the transfer shows off what's so great about high definition and why we all love it. Any daytime and outdoor scenes look particularly strong, with plenty of detail, vivid but balanced colors, and good contrast. The image never looks blown out and the transfer quality is often good enough that the phony special effects are glaringly easy to spot.
That being said, there are a few issues that stem from shooting with digital that can't be ignored. Poorly lit scenes, generally at night, look noticeably worse than their daytime counterparts. Blacks run to blue and noise creeps in. And even during some daytime scenes, unintentional motion blur slips in that looks artificial. Granted, these shots are few and far between, but when they do appear they stand out like beacons because they're so poorly shot in comparison to the rest of the film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is not as impressive as I expected for a brand new title. The most obvious issue is that the vocals are buried too far into the mix, so any scene with background noise makes it difficult to hear the characters. Even when you can hear them, there appears to be some amount of muffling going on. This must be from the production audio, because there are several instances of ADR dialogue those sounds entirely different. These lines are mixed too loud and sound completely clear. This isn't something that changes from scene to scene, but rather from line to line, although the ADR lines are relatively few.
As far as the rest of the mix, it's not terribly impressive either. In the few action scenes that the film actually features, the low end feels weak and lacking in a resounding rumble, and directionality was limited, rarely reaching the rears with anything of note. A disappointing mix that does the movie no favors.