Synopsis – A couple find themselves lured into a Russian oligarch’s plans to defect are soon positioned between the Russian Mafia and the British Secret Service, neither of whom they can trust.
My Take – With the recent success of the TV series The Night Manager, it seems like studios have finally opened up to author John le Carre adaptions. Test screened in 2014, this Susanna White directed thriller was originally set to release between a hoard of 2015 spy films such as Spectre, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Spy, Bridge of Spies, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Not to say that it wouldn’t have held its own, but based on general audience’s perception of the plot (thriller related to banking), the absence of an A lister & of course the very dull trailers would have made the film crumble in between. Films like this however are often the ones that surprise you the most – small thrillers or dramas that you don’t know much about, and with a few actors that tend to pick good projects involved there was always the chance that this one might turn out to be your kind of film. While his earlier adaption, the 2011 thriller Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is arguably one of his better adaption, this old school thriller follows a familiar routine, but with plenty of inventive style, thrills and personality, its easy to ignore the obvious plot holes. The story follows poetry professor Perry (Ewan McGregor) and his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) who are in Marrakech holidaying in an attempt to save their troubled marriage. One evening in a bar, Perry meets the boisterous Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), a Russian who openly admits that he launders money for the mafia. And asks for Perry’s help in delivering account information to British intelligence in exchange for his family’s safety. Back in London, Perry meets MI6 agent Hector (Damian Lewis), who sees this data as vital to bring down corrupt British politicians. But he has to go rogue to continue on the case, drafting Perry and Gail in to help. Soon they’re travelling to France and Switzerland in a dangerous game that puts them in the crosshairs of both a Russian mafia boss (Grigoriy Dobrigyn) and Hector’s ex boss the shifty British MP (Jeremy Northam).
Agreed, the storyline bears some similarities to The Night Manager – outsiders accidentally drawn into the world of espionage and treachery, and the plot here may not hit any new ground, nor is it as striking and complex as some of Le Carre’s adaptations, but it does give us a thrilling tale of doing the right thing no matter what the threats. Very confidently directed by Susanna White and with a cleverly structured screenplay by Hossein Amini (the director of The Two Faces of January), the new film rattles along swiftly enough. It is full of all the plot twists and Hitchcock-style deception that might be expected from such kind of films. The key point here is that Perry and Gail get involved because they are trying to help Dima’s family. The film takes the everyman thrown into an extraordinary situation and runs with it in a believable and exciting way. This makes everything that happens unusually down-to-earth, with a plot that hinges on the safety of a wife and children rather than the fate of the world. Actually, it’s the state of the world that’s the villain here, as corrupt politicians accept huge money to sidestep the rule of law. There’s one thing this film does particularly well, and that’s showing you how people are feeling or what people are doing without them having to speak. There’s no clunky dialogue, but instead subtle looks or actions that imply everything you need to know. Not once did I feel spoken down to, and that’s probably a credit to the script, the direction, and the actors, who all pull their weight. The story boasts as many exotic locations as the average Bond movie, with scenes set everywhere from Marrakech to the Alps, from Moscow to London. The action sequences are unusually clever, avoiding cliches for something more deeply involving and believable. Having said that, the film is not without its issues, the film falls into pacing issues especially in the second half when things are being more amped up. Still, as said, it’s a finely made thriller that allows the central trio a chance to shine.
Without a doubt, the film’s biggest personality is Stellan Skarsgard’s Dima. Skarsgard steals the film with an unforgettable performance. His Dima is a boisterous and affable Russian who hides his fear underneath an entirely contrasting exterior. He’s a compelling character, and it’s interesting to see Skarsgard take on a role that has a little bit more under the bonnet than usual. It’s his relationship with McGregor’s Perry which holds the film together, much like that between Hugh Laurie and Hiddleston in The Night Manager. McGregor is also engaging as the innocent British everyman, somehow caught up in the great game of international espionage. McGregor delivers a steady performance, matched by Naomie Harris, who’s become somewhat of a stand-out in the more recent Bond films (Skyfall & Spectre). Their relationship is a firm focus of the films and provides it with heart in the face of continuing complications and twists. Damian Lewis (Homeland) shines in a well suited role. On the whole, ‘Our Kind of Traitor’ isn’t particularly an original film, but its so well made, strongly acted and gripping, fans of the genre will end up enjoying it anyways. Its unfortunate the film seems to have sneaked in under the radar: I wonder why the producers didn’t cash in more blatantly on The Night Manager‘s success.
Directed – Susanna White
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 107 minutes