Our Kind of Traitor
Dir Susanna White
During a Marrakesh holiday to rekindle a fractured relationship, Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) make acquaintance with loud Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard). University lecturer Perry in particular falls under Dima’s spell, yet it is his desire to do the right thing that has him agreeing to deliver a thumb drive to MI5 with details of a far-reaching money laundering conspiracy involving gangsters and high ranking English politicians. MI5 agent Hector (Damien Lewis) wants to retrieve Dima and his family, but the Russian only trusts Perry and Gail, leading to a game of cat and mouse from Paris to Bern with Russian mobsters in pursuit.
John Le Carre has been an in-demand author for any years now and his 2010 novel, Our Kind of Traitor finds sympathetic treatment in the hands of a script by Hossein Amini, known for his work on 2011’s hypnotic Drive. What Le Carre does best is in some ways anathema to modern cinema. His books rarely feature hi-octane car chases or seat-jolting set pieces. Instead, work like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are all about the twilight world, the grey area in between right and wrong, the slow burn of tension as opposed to the kind of story measured in numbers of explosions.
White has delivered a film that deals in the same currency. She gets the tone just right. This is definitely an English as opposed to what we often think of as American films. The layering of detail about each character creates fleshed-out people rather than plot ciphers. For Perry and Gail, two ordinary people, the gradual enmeshing of their lives into those of the Russian mob is all too easy to grasp. In fact it gains credibility because of Perry’s desire to do what seems to be the right thing to make up for his previous relational failures and to be a better person.
Skarsgard’s Dima is a boisterous and charismatic man, capable of evil but who also wants to redeem himself for his own reasons. Gail too is changed by what goes on and Harris brings a delightful subtlety to these moments. If anything McGregor is a little too laidback at times, but as a Lecturer in Poetry at the University of London and a person in a state of contrition, he lands on the right side of believable.
The scenery is nice as well; as far as geopolitical thrillers go this one plays its cards admirably in France, Switzerland, Morocco, and England. Some may wish for a few more big bangs and a higher body count but Our Kind of Traitor keeps up the tension to grip from start to end.