Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language throughout, some Sexuality, Nudity and brief Drug Use
Directed by: Susanna White
Written by: Hossein Amini
(based on the novel OUR KIND OF TRAITOR by John Le Carre)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris, Khalid Abdalla, Velibor Topic, Alicia Von Rittberg & Mark Gatiss
From 2011 onwards, there has been a recent trend of cinematic adaptations from John Le Carre’s novels. OUR KIND OF TRAITOR has been in development since midway through 2014. After the positive reception of tense thriller A MOST WANTED MAN and award-winning miniseries THE NIGHT MANAGER, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR opened to not much reception from audiences and critics alike. This movie’s reviews seemed to be underwhelming and it has all but been forgotten within the space of a few months. Having finally seen the film for myself, I found it to be the weakest Le Carre movie to come out of the 2010’s. However, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is an enjoyable dose of suspense and entertainment.
While on vacation in Morocco, troubled couple Perry MacKendrick (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) are attempting to repair their severely damaged marriage. A dinner conversation in a fancy restaurant goes south and Perry soon finds himself left without a companion for the night…until boisterous stranger Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) offers him a drink. Perry and Dima soon become best pals, while a reluctant Gail takes a liking to Dima’s wife and children. However, not everything is as it seems when Dima asks Perry to deliver a USB drive to his government. It turns out that Dima is actually a Russian gangster who fears for his life and wants asylum in the United Kingdom. When hot-headed MI6 agent Hector (Damian Lewis) discovers this, he decides to milk Dima’s desperate situation for everything that it’s worth in order to get information and a possible promotion at his job. Perry and Gail soon find themselves caught in the middle of an intricate cat-and-mouse game between a reforming Russian gangster and an arrogant secret agent driven by questionable motives.
Much like Le Carre’s other spy stories, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR tackles espionage through many conversations and various characters’ interactions. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t some action and tense surprises to be had though, because this is easily the most action-packed Le Carre adaptation of the 2010’s so far. Bullets, beatings, and explosions make their way into the proceedings and cause a bigger impact with their presence due to the script’s less-is-more approach. The film is shot with slick cinematography and an eye for style, making what may have been mundane dialogue-filled moments into scenes that are visually stimulating to look at.
The characters and performances are a mixed bag. Stellan Skarsgard is phenomenal as titular traitor Dima. Skarsgard injects a loud personality into the charismatic Russian gangster, who seems very much like a good guy doing what is best for his family. Dima’s personality offers a stark contrast to his crimes that we’re told about, but are never fully shown on-screen. Dima is more than likable as a result and also puts the viewer through a sea of conflicting emotions. Ewan McGregor stars as Dima’s new best friend and only hope, Perry. We are given tiny tidbits that suggest that this character has deep flaws, but these aren’t explored much. Instead, he’s just a Good Samaritan…and comes off as a bland cardboard protagonist as a result. Yes, you can argue that his character is just a hero and we should be rooting for him simply because of that. However, Ewan McGregor isn’t given much to work with as Perry is a boring. His scenes with Dima are fun, but his moments with other characters fall emotionally flat.
Damien Lewis is criminally underused as potentially shady MI6 agent Hector. This character is prominently featured in the film’s trailer, poster and DVD cover. However, he only has a couple of stand-out scenes and is sadly wasted away in a corrupt bureaucracy subplot, echoing THE NIGHT MANAGER’s weaker points and outright repeating a few of that story’s plot twists. This is really a shame too. Lewis delivers a great performance as the impossible-to-predict secret agent and seemed like he was building towards becoming a more intense presence in the story’s grand scheme. Instead, he’s wasting away behind a desk and debating ethics. Yes, this is the more realistic approach to spy stories that Le Carre is known for, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. Still, Lewis, McGregor and Skarsgard put in good performances…even if two of the characters are poorly written. The same cannot be said for Naomie Harris as Gail, who’s just an aggravating character being brought to life by a rather lifeless performance.
For all of its faults, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR remains an entertaining, suspenseful spy thriller. If you’ve liked Le Carre’s other recent adaptations, then you’ll probably enjoy this film. The performances are mostly solid, even if the characters don’t allow the cast to work with much. The visual style and spurts of intense action keep the dialogue-driven plot interesting. However, don’t go into this film expecting something along the same lines as A MOST WANTED MAN (my favorite Le Carre adaptation thus far) or THE NIGHT MANAGER. Instead, just go in craving a fun movie in the vein of Le Carre’s more realistic espionage stories and you’ll likely leave satisfied.