‘Our Kind of Traitor’ is a Bland Adaptation of le Carré

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The novels of John le Carré have provided the inspiration for a number of spy movies, tales of deceitful characters keeping their cards close to the vest in order to maintain an upper hand in the world of political intrigue. Sometimes a le Carré story can take a little while for all of its moving parts to get in sync, and sometimes all the moving parts are just kept spinning until the whole damn thing feels inert. That’s what happens with Our Kind of Traitor, director Susanna White’s adaptation of le Carré’s novel of the same name. It’s a political thriller that isn’t particularly thrilling, a tale of international intrigue that isn’t remotely intriguing.

The story revolves around the Russian mafia and the oligarchs behind the brutal façade that wield their power with a kind of brutality that would make Stalin blush. When we first see the Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the leader of the Russian mob, he bestows a gift upon a colleague only to order his grisly execution later. So much for the concept of honor among thieves.

In Marrakech, Perry (Ewan McGregor), a professor of poetics, and his wife Gail (Naomi Harris), a lawyer, are trying to repair their fractured marriage with a romantic getaway. One evening when Gail is forced away from their dinner to attend to some work matters, Perry winds up making the acquaintance with Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a boisterous Russian who quickly pressures Perry into joining him at a party. The two form an unlikely friendship, and before Perry and Gail are to return to London Dima presents him with a thumb drive with valuable information about the Russian mob. Fearing that the Prince will order his hit in a matter of days, Dima wants Perry to pass off the information to MI-6 in London in order to secure asylum from himself and his family. Why Perry decides to delve head first into the brutal underworld of the Russian mob isn’t made entirely clear aside from the fact that he got a glimpse of Dima’s children.

In London, the MI-6 agent tasked with this valuable information, Hector (Damien Lewis), has suspicions about the validity of the data and soon tasks Perry and Gail with assisting in a covert operation to secure Dima’s cooperation and attest to the information’s validity. Hector is driven to uncover the truth behind this information because it could lead to revealing corruption within the British government in approving a bank that would operate as a front for laundering the money of the Russian mob.

For all the globetrotting of Our Kind of Traitor, there’s little to keep the viewer interested in this relatively weightless tale of espionage. The screenplay by Hossein Amini lacks any escalation of the stakes at play. The film opens with a brutal assassination and then trudges along hoping the hypothetical threat of violence will be enough to garner some tension. It just doesn’t work. Once it eventually raises the stakes of its story, you’ve entirely disengaged as the elements of suspense and duplicity don’t really come to fruition until way too late.

Sadly, Susanna White does little with her direction to elevate the lackluster script. Working with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, White gives the film an incredibly garish look with a predilection for lens flares and reflections. A number of fairly well-composed shots are undermined by these visual distractions, which constantly appear without rhyme or reason throughout.

Despite the inert narrative, Ewan McGregor still carries himself well as the everyman plunged into the world of international intrigue. Stellan Skarsgård seems content to ham it up as the Russian mobster with a moment of conscious, and the two leads have a strong chemistry together. You believe their connection, though you can never really believe that one would put everything on the line to help this recent acquaintance. As McGregor’s wife, Naomie Harris provides the film with its heart and soul, proving that she should be prominent in more films, especially better ones. The real standout performance in Our Kind of Traitor comes from Damien Lewis who gives his character a bit of the provincial properness of a British operative with a slight rasp to compliment his stiff upper lip.

The solid performances within Our Kind of Traitor can’t help this le Carré adaptation from its inert form of storytelling. Sometimes the direction is nothing more than baffling as the action is nothing more than boring. The political aspects of a resurgent Russian underground using corrupt means for legitimacy and a Brittan struggling to understand its place in the shifting international landscape are lost in a rather rote story lacking in danger and suspense despite its spy roots. The dull and conventional aspects of the film are all wrapped up with a nice bow and a happy ending, because nothing is dangerous in Our Kind of Traitor.

Our Kind of Traitor
  • Overall Score
2

Summary

A rote adapation of John le Carré, Our Kind of Traitor features some decent performances amidst some baffling direction and uninteresting storytelling.

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