If you thought Dominic Cooke’s The Courier was dark gloomy, then you were paying attention. The film tells the true story of a close call in history and paints the picture. You can tell from the first frames of the film that things will not end well. The film’s color palette features saturated grays and muted colors. Those visuals choices do more than add gloom to the doom. They emphasize the particular setting and mood during a time when stakes were high and many believed the world would end.
Gray and Grey
A film’s color palette plays a vital role in conveying emotion. Scenes meant to express joy or happiness often appear warmly lit and bright. Other scenes intended to express sadness or despair often feature the opposite. The Courier falls into the latter category. The film has a very grey and dull color palette. Any hint of color appears muted and dull. Some scenes focus solely on the main characters, with the rest of the foreground blacked out in shadow. It’s an effective technique to highlight essential characters and details but stays within the color palette.
A Particular Setting
The sun is missing from the entire film. Again, that adds to the color choices, but it also emphasizes the setting. The Courier takes place mainly in the UK and Russia. Both places famously get less sun than other countries, and the film constantly reminds you. It adds to the authenticity of the setting. You have to believe the film takes place in both countries and details like lack of sunlight and color choices help.
A Mood in History
Even more importantly, the color palette and other visual cues set the mood of the story. The 1960s seem like a far distant memory. Figures like JFK eventually fall further into history, much like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. We also tend to forget the close calls of history. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was one of those events. Many people believed the world was on the brink of nuclear destruction. Tensions were high, and fears heightened. The visual elements of The Courier perfectly convey those emotions like a time capsule. Is the film suspenseful and depressing? Yes. But so was that particular moment in time. Do the visuals add to the doom and gloom? Also, yes, but it allows the audience to step into an era in time, on the brink.