Review: OUR KIND OF TRAITOR, Slick Yet Simple Spycraft
Veteran screen adapter Hossein Amini (The Two Faces of January, Drive) teams up with famed author John le Carré for yet another big screen espionage thriller joint with Our Kind of Traitor.
Le Carré, who serves as executive producer, brings his typical granular approach to Government and institutional betrayal his novels are famed for. The focus is on Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a career criminal for the Russian mob who has decided to betray his comrades when he learns that his financial know-how of the business has put him and his family in the cross-hairs of Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin) his ruthless leader. When a chance encounter in Morocco with the unhappily married British couple Perry and Gail (Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris) gives Dima the chance he is waiting for, the repercussions escalate into a tense waiting game through waves of political corruption.
The strengths of Amini’s screenwriting; complex portrayal of relationships, sudden thrilling moments and organic location and scene building, are not as evident in Our Kind of Traitor. There are lazy conveniences in the plot that are hard to overlook and as a result the kind of complexity a Le Carré film craves is sorely lacking.
Initially the divisive relationship between Perry and Gail has promise, and their embroiling in Russian mafia business and the secrets they are supposed to keep is rife for dramatic exploitation. Soon after introducing their predicament however, their sense of isolation is used merely as cookie crumbs to meet this unlikely larger-than-life character Dima during their sojourn to Morocco.
The plot keeps the intrigue and potential for double or triple crosses fresh though, as statecraft and politics in the film elevate proceedings despite an obvious disconnect from the main narrative. Questions of what a traitor is in a contemporary global economy and the repercussions of loyalty and tradition in such a context is expertly conveyed by the film’s B-plot, wherein Damien Lewis plays a stiff-upper lip Brit Hector fighting corruption and helping Dima within the realistic means that he can.
Skarsgård as Dima gives an over-the-top but charming performance as a career criminal worth caring about. His dire situation and apparent sincerity and desperation is played perfectly by the veteran actor who must remain thick-skulled but also smart enough to elude the British Government and his vicious Russian cohorts.
Dima becomes the centre of the film, and it is easy to emphasize with him. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the supporting cast who are just filler between moments of thrilling espionage and quiet drama. Dima’s family are empty husks; his children and wife feel grossly underdeveloped even though this is what Dima is fighting for.
Naomie Harris as the wife of McGregor’s Perry also does not match up to the substantial stakes of the plot, nor is a convincing paramour as the screen chemistry is less than convincing. Ewan McGregor sleep-walks through his role as a Professor delivering a competent but uncomplicated performance as his actions are never really justified by his attitude, and some moments are simply unconvincing as a result.
Director Susanna White under the executive producing powers of Le Carré maintains a typical globetrotting tone, particularly in moments of technical spycraft, but does not quite nail the sense of thrill and urgency these beautiful locations should convey. This is further hindered by the cinematography which feels slightly off due to its choice of artificial lighting.
Our Kind of Traitor is intriguing enough and a decent adaptation that’s carried mostly by Skarsgård, and manages to comment on important matters of white collar and governmental corruption, even though some generic screenplay elements and a weak supporting cast lessen the impact.
Our Kind of Traitor is in limited release across cinemas Australia-wide.
Our Kind of Traitor
- Susanna White
- John le Carré (based on the novel by)
- Hossein Amini
- Carlos Acosta
- Radivoje Bukvic
- Stellan Skarsgård
- Mariya Fomina