The Courier (2012)

For those who came in late: Yesterday I wanted to watch a movie from Palestine, and I picked OMAR (2013), a very good Oscar nominee that deals with the Israel-Palestine conflict in the form of a dramatic thriller. Afterwards I read about director Hany Abu-Assad and learned that he’d also done the similarly themed, also Oscar-nominated PARADISE NOW (2005), and I think I’m gonna watch that soon. But I also found out that the one movie he did in between those was the 2012 DTV action movie THE COURIER starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan. So… I’m sorry. I had to get to that first. I was too excited not to.

Morgan (WATCHMEN, THE RESIDENT) stars as The Courier. Similar to the Transporter, but with less emphasis on which car he’s driving, he’s the guy who it’s known is the absolute best at delivering a case of unknown contents to some nefarious character without asking questions. I think this was too early for there to be an app to use when you need to hire someone for that, so he really just gets jobs by word of mouth. Good for him. He lives in an old print shop with the name “Ed Smith” on the sign (one of Parker’s aliases, incidentally), and his friend calls him Eddie, but I don’t know him like that, so I call him The Courier, like the credits do.

After a cold open about his exciting job (he runs up a rollercoaster track to deliver ransom money) he goes to visit his old friend and father figure Stitch (Mark Margolis, CHRISTMAS EVIL, SCARFACE, DELTA FORCE 2, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, ABSOLUTE POWER, PI, END OF DAYS, INFESTED, THE WRESTLER, BLACK SWAN, NOAH) at his boxing gym. While he’s there, some scary dude named Lispy (Til Schweiger, THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS, DRIVEN, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) storms into Stitch’s office with two thugs and a case for The Courier to deliver to a guy they don’t know how to find. He only agrees because they threaten to kill Stitch’s daughter and granddaughter if he doesn’t. (Stitch acts the same as he would if this had nothing to do with him, so he must have full faith in The Courier’s abilities.)

So The Courier travels to a couple different cities trying to find some mysterious underworld figure called “Evil Sivle,” name they must’ve figured we would get used to but it just sounds stupider the more they say it. Evil Sivle is kind of this Keyser Soze figure – everyone The Courier mentions the name to gets spooked, starts talking about him like a sinister supernatural force, simultaneously swearing he’s dead and that he’s gonna get them. (Despite being the expert of all experts, The Courier seems to be the only person around who never heard of the guy.)

The Courier is obsessed with small planes, or at least has like 15 photos and paintings of them framed on his walls, but when he needs access to one he has to steal it and have Stitch find him a pilot. He sends Anna (Josie Ho, THE VAMPIRE EFFECT, EXILED, STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI, MOTORWAY), who Stitch says he practically raised from the time she was an orphan car thief and is like his niece but has never mentioned to The Courier who is like his nephew. The Courier assumes Anna doesn’t know what she’s doing, and they snip at each other (but later fuck).

The first guy they chase down is an accountant named Sam Fran Tanna (David Jensen, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION), who they find burning documents in a fire place and ranting about He’s back! He’s coming for me! and all that. This is the type of movie where an accountant on the run wears a suit with a bow tie like it’s a cartoon.

He does seem to be correct – assassins show up, and The Courier gets some pretty good fighting and killing. Morgan looks more hung over and bleary-eyed than I’m used to, not sure what’s up there, but I like that he doesn’t pretend not to be middle aged. Willing to grunt and get tired while running and fighting. Seems like his knees are always aching.

The Courier uncovers a backstory I couldn’t entirely keep track of about Evil Sivle’s blood feud with his former business partner Maxwell (not the one with the Urban Hang Suite – a different Maxwell). We don’t know whether the shadowy puppetmaster making phone calls in a room with the lights turned off while his teenage son plays basketball nearby is Evil Sivle or Maxwell, but we do figure out pretty quick that his voice is definitely Mickey Rourke. And yet they continue to show him only in the dark, from the back.

You know, there was that period when Robert Rodriguez brought Rourke back into the limelight for ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003) and SIN CITY (2005) and the Scott brothers used him in MAN ON FIRE (2004) and DOMINO (2005). Then THE WRESTLER (2008) gave him the most acclaim of his career, plus the paycheck reward of IRON MAN 2 (2010). He also had THE EXPENDABLES that year, followed with PASSION PLAY (2010) and IMMORTALS (2011) and then this in 2012, firmly shaping him into the Mickey Rourke we’ve had since. The one who will only shoot a couple scenes for a movie, but they will be very weird and he’ll pour four times the heart into them than anyone else would. Most of the time seeing Rourke’s name on a cast list these days is a simultaneous kiss of death and seal of approval. It’s gonna be cheap as hell, but at least Mickey Rourke is gonna be in it.

I like when The Courier gets arrested and escapes but doesn’t leave the FBI office, instead he sits down at a computer to look at some files. Another cool moment is when the assassins named Mr. and Mrs. Capo show up. If you’re the guy who directed PARADISE NOW you can get Miguel Ferrer (THE NIGHT FLIER) and Lili Taylor (LEATHERFACE) to play your assassin team. They capture The Courier and torture him and there’s a great scene where he gets loose and interrupts them in their fancy-ass kitchen as they’re cooking up a gourmet meal. After he kills them he tends to his wounds in the sink and I was hoping he’d stop and eat some of the food. He does at least munch on a carrot.

Obviously this is an entirely different tone from OMAR, but I did notice a couple superficial similarities. Number one, The Courier talks to a mouse that lives in his apartment, just like Omar talks to an ant in his prison cell. Number two, there’s a great foot chase through alleys, up stairways and across roofs, taking advantage of the unique New Orleans locations just like OMAR did with al-Far’a and Nazareth. I look forward to finding out if he has POINT BREAK style foot chases in any of his earlier movies. It would be cool if he got his first taste from his Jeffrey Dean Morgan DTV joint and then carried it over to an Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie.

(The stunt coordinator and second unit director is Stanton Barrett, a former NASCAR driver, skiier and dirt biker who has been stunt double for Brad Pitt, James Franco, Peter Facineli, Lucas Haas, Eminem, Jamie Pressly, Christoph Waltz, Hugh Jackman, and Corey in HALLOWEEN ENDS. The fight coordinator is Jeff Brockton, who also doubles Morgan in this and other things. The fight choreographer is Hans Marrero, a stunt fighter in the BAAHUBALI movies, among others, who played fighters in NEVER BACK DOWN 2: THE BEATDOWN, WARRIOR, CREED, and SULTAN).

The banner for THE COURIER’s Justwatch page is a set photo of Ho talking to director Abu-Assad

I’m not gonna claim there’s a strong authorial voice here, but knowing who’s behind it does make it more interesting. In a way it’s an impressionistic portrait of America from the outside. It’s explicitly set in an area gone to ruin because of the systematic failures to prepare for or rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The Courier buys guns from two cartoonish rednecks, a skinny one named T Petite (Lance J. Guidry, 1 episode of Memphis Beat) and a burly one named Boo (Randal Reeder, WRONG SIDE OF TOWN), who work out of an American-and-Confederate-flag draped trailer behind a car racing track. When the Capos capture The Courier they waterboard him – I know that’s intentional. They’re total torture buffs so they give him a little lecture about its history, with allusions to past American sins like slavery and witch trials.

And then we move to the capital of American excess, Las Vegas, where the story suddenly revolves around the great American icon Elvis Presley. I recognize that most of you will never watch this, so I’m gonna have to share a BIG TWIST SPOILER. In the last act, The Courier is shocked to find out that he is in fact Evil Sivle, the guy he and everybody else are looking for. Mickey Rourke’s character is Maxwell, who killed Evil Sivle’s wife, causing Evil Sivle to go crazy and massacre their whole operation, but I guess he got blown up and lost his memory and got plastic surgery and was believed dead? And now Maxwell wants to do a murder-suicide with him? I’m not sure. But like they said in TENET, “Don’t try to understand it, feel it.”

I mentioned how awkward the name “Evil Sivle” is. I heard it as “Evil Civil” though. So I didn’t see it coming when The Courier sees a Vegas reader board reflected in a mirror and realizes that Evil Civil backwards is Elvis Live. In the past, for reasons I don’t understand but do feel, Maxwell and Evil Sivle dressed up as Elvis together. Maybe it’s their profession, maybe it’s a fetish, maybe this is an unofficial sequel to 30,000 MILES TO GRACELAND. I don’t know, but I like it because Rourke never once shows his face until the climax, when he puts on fake sideburns, a wig and sunglasses and does his act at a casino. Then The Courier follows him to his dressing room for the final confrontation. He takes off the shades, looks bizarre with all the eye makeup he has on, and does his Mickey Rourke heartbroken villain stuff halfway between his usual voice and an Elvis drawl. Beautiful.

There’s an end-of-KILL-BILL-VOLUME-1 type reveal that the kid with Maxwell is actually The Courier’s son. Maxwell’s henchmen are hiding the kid somewhere, so he taunts that if The Courier kills him “You’ll never find out where your son is.” The Courier kills him anyway, then goes to the burnt down shell of the house where his wife was killed, remembering it all. We hear a replay of Maxwell saying, “You’ll never find out where your son is” and it fades to black. I joked, “What if that was the end?” And then the director credit came up! That is the end!

I had to rewind it to reconsider. I think the idea is to show the tragedy of The Courier choosing violent revenge over reuniting with his son. Kinda like THE NORTHMAN. It’s so abrupt and unexpected in this type of movie that it’s comical, but I love the audacity of it. You’re not supposed to do that.

A ton of movies were filmed in New Orleans in the late aughts/early teens: THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, BULLET TO THE HEAD, DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT, EMPIRE STATE, ESCAPE PLAN, HOMEFRONT, KILLING THEM SOFTLY, LOOPER, THE MECHANIC, OBLIVION, OLDBOY, THE PAPERBOY, PARKER, SINNERS AND SAINTS, STOLEN. It was refreshing to suddenly see so many movies in a place with such a different regional flavor from L.A., New York or Vancouver. And it worked out great for this one – not many DTV movies can open in an actual abandoned amusement park (Six Flags New Orleans, which still hasn’t re-opened since being flooded during Katrina). Seeing Morgan run in there with a case full of money really had me wanting to see a more faithful adaptation of Richard Stark’s Slayground than the one they did with Peter Coyote.

From the sounds of it, THE COURIER producer Michael Arata had a hand in creating that wave of New Orleans filming. In 2002 he helped draft the legislation that created tax incentives for filming there, and after Katrina he was the chairman of the Bring Back New Orleans Commission Film/Entertainment subcommittee. Unfortunately, in 2016 he and two others were convicted of tax fraud for misleading auditors and state officials about $1.1 million in tax credits they used to transform a Victorian mansion into a post-production studio. Whoops! For his part of it he faced a maximum of 185 years in prison, but a lenient judge just gave him probation and a $15,000 fine (presumably delivered by The Courier).

As far as I can tell THE COURIER got universally terrible reviews, which is fair enough. But those guys are amateurs when it comes to DTV. This is a category I appreciate: low budget but not totally chintzy, pulpy but not generic, mostly built on familiar tropes but with some personality to them – colorful settings, good cast, some funny details and befuddling choices. And then it dives into these absurdly convoluted twists that wouldn’t cut it in a “real” movie but that I’m able to chuckle at and get a kick out of in this format. When they attempt something a little bit high-minded, but it collides with the realities that inevitably transform best intentions into DTV trash, it’s like combining two chemicals that may create an interesting reaction. It’s not on the same level, but it reminds me slightly of Lee Daniels’ hitman movie SHADOWBOXER. Sometimes if the movie seems a little deranged and inexplicable that’s more exciting than knowing if they did this on purpose.

Abu-Assad is not the only acclaimed filmmaker involved. Cinematographer Antonio Calvache shot LITTLE CHILDREN and IN THE BEDROOM, editor William Steinkamp was nominated for Oscars for TOOTSIE, OUT OF AFRICA and THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS, and art director Helen Harwell was nominated for a 2021 Art Directors Guild award for Fargo. Other than a couple iffy green screen parts and the occasional slightly awkward ADR it’s a fairly slickly made indie movie. I’m sorry to say it but the score by Nima Fakhrara (ALONE, BECKY, TAKE BACK, SICK, LOU, THE WRATH OF BECKY) gets in the way. It keeps yelling “THIS IS ONE OF THOSE CHEESY DTV THRILLERS!” at you and you’re like yeah, I know, got it, calm down. Whenever it gets quiet or there’s a brass band marching by or rap music playing in the boxing gym it suddenly seems like a classier movie.

The credits list writers Brannon Coombs and Pete Dris, but I think those are pseudonyms. They have no other IMDb credits and I found news stories from 2009 mentioning a script by Derek Haas and Michael Brandt (INVINCIBLE, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, 3:10 TO YUMA, WANTED). One piece mentioned Abu-Assad and Morgan replacing previously attached Russell Mulcahy and Adrien Brody. I think that verifies that this didn’t start as some classier project, it was the director choosing to do this type of movie. In an Indiewire interview promoting his 2022 Palestinian film HUDA’S SALON he talks about his love for thrillers, citing Hitchcock, Melville, Sydney Pollack and Alan Parker as influences. The only quote I could find from him about THE COURIER was, “The biggest mistake was the script – it wasn’t good. But it’s also difficult when producers are inexperienced.” A 2016 Screen Daily article mentions, “He had a mixed experience on his US 2012 action thriller THE COURIER but blames his own misunderstandings of the US way of working for the film’s problems.”

An article in The Guardian said that “when he wrapped up THE COURIER and realized that it had turned out to be ‘a failure’ and was headed straight to video” he quickly hammered out the outline for OMAR as “a rescue project.” I’m glad he was able to fold those genre interests into more personal movies where he doesn’t have to contend with American producers, but selfishly I’m also glad he made THE COURIER first. Yeah, maybe it’s sad if the best thing Hollywood could offer a veteran international director after his Oscar-nominated triumph was some silly DTV bullshit like this. But also it’s beautiful that a veteran international director chose to follow his Oscar-nominated triumph with some silly DTV bullshit like this. The world is complicated. Sometimes not in a bad way.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 15th, 2024 at 12:44 pm and is filed under Reviews, Action, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

6 Responses to “The Courier (2012)”

  1. Goddamit, this movie. I have this DVD, and it sits on a stack of DVDs in my apartment, I haven’t been able to get rid of them. Every time I see that stack, somehow, this is the movie sitting on top.

    I do think that Vern has pinpointed some of the funkier stuff in here, but I don’t think the movie is redeemed by those touches. The Evil Sivle stuff especially – just ridiculous.

    Even though this more or less jacks the concept of The Transporter, it’s really more like Taken. The formula was so popular back then (and maybe still) of a middle aged actor suddenly recruited to act out a silly bmovie action storyline.

    It felt like everyone got a Taken. Kevin Costner got one (3 Days To Die or To Kill or something). Sean Penn got one (The Gunman). I do find it funny that when Nic Cage got one, they simply called it “Stolen”.

  2. I don’t really think it fits that template, but I like that template. Formulas are part of the fun of the genre. I thought the Kevin Costner one was actually quite good, in many ways better than TAKEN (though no one agrees with me on that). Didn’t see the Sean Penn one though.

  3. I’m curious, to a point, about Penn’s “The Gunman,” if only because it’s an apparently very loose adaptation of a novel by the great lefty French thriller writer Jean-Patrick Manchette—a novel where the protagonist was in his 20s and his callow youthfulness was a major part of his character.

    I’m really curious about what, if anything, survived the adaptation.

  4. Now we just need The Courier: The Return of Evil Sivle with Olga Kurylenko briefly cameoing at the climax to tease a Courier team-up film.

  5. I’ve only seen parts of “The Gunman” though it was shortly after “Bridge Of Spies” and I was surprised to see kindly Mark Rylance as one of those scummy, sniveling, dirtbag action movie villains. That movie has a crazy overqualified cast.

  6. First half of the review: “This movie sounds okay or whatever, I probably don’t have to bother.” Second half of the review: “Holy shit, this sounds insane. I should watch it.” You lured me right into that one, Vern!

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