Our Kind of Traitor
After being quiet for a while we seem to be getting a real slew of Ewan McGregor movies of late, and if you like to see him as part of a very strong ensemble cast in a tightly scripted and directed story based on a novel by John le Carré, you might want to take a look at Susanna White’s (Nanny McPhee Returns) Our Kind of Traitor.
The basic story of this spy thriller is fairly familiar to fans of the genre. Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor), a Professor of Poetry at a London University, is on holiday in Morocco with his wife Gail Perkins (Naoime Harris), a high powered lawyer who is trying to save the marriage after an indiscretion on his part, which is obviously part of the story to add a little tension between the couple from the start, just so they have a reason to grow closer as the action unfolds. This conceit is actually used very well, and with McGregor and Harris being such fine actors, the mending and strengthening of their marriage plays very well.
Back to the plot, and on an evening out at a restaurant Gail is called away on business, so Perry falls into drinking with some Russians, lead by Dima, played by the ever excellent Stellan Skarsgård. He convinces our man to come to a party, and they bond (pun, fully intended). The next day, Gail returns to the fray and the couple are invited to a birthday party for Dima’s oldest, where we learn the real reason for Dima befriending McGregor’s Perry. If you’ve seen the trailer this is by no means a spoiler, and we find out that Dima is actually the money man for the Russian Mafia, and he’s discovered he’s for the chop, so wants to defect with his family, all in the name of protecting them from the violent deaths that await them at the hands of the Mob. To do this, he hands Perry a USB drive with valuable information and asks him to hand it to MI6 when he returns home. So far, so convoluted, so John le Carré.
Once home, Perry hands the info over at the airport to Hector, played by Damian Lewis, who is chewing the spy drama scenery so beautifully, you can’t help but wonder if he ever wants to play any other part. From here we get the usual twists and turns as politicians and business men get drawn into the murky world, and just how far the corruption goes, and how few people our heroes can trust becomes more clear. It’s directed with pace, and very tightly by White, and you’ll be drawn nicely along. Nothing much will surprise you, these beats have been hit many many times before, but there is a reason people watch and read this type of story over and over, it is compelling.
As is this movie, in spite of a couple of scenes that interrupt the flow of the logic created in this world of spies and organised crime, it is a very solid piece of work. Admittedly one of those aforementioned scenes shows a character doing something so unbelievably stupid that it jars badly, being a very obvious deus ex machina just to bring back some action, and ramp up the threat to the characters. However, considering the strength of the acting, and the slickness of the direction, it is forgivable, and after my initial shake of the head, and rub of the temples, I settled back into the flow of the movie.
Our Kind of Traitor could certainly be your kind of movie, if you like this sort of thing. It’s a tight, engrossing, and entertaining 107 minutes of cinema. Yes, it is predictable, but how many of this genre of movie aren’t? The performances are strong, and the character development, is very strong between Harris and McGregor, feeling very satisfying that things work out for them as they do. A slight niggle is the somewhat rushed friendship between McGregor’s Perry and Skarsgård’s Dima, stretching credibility that a person not usually inhabiting this world of espionage would risk so much, and go so far for an effect stranger,
The action isn’t too fancy, but the brutality of it fits well with the Russian Mafia tropes that we have come to expect from the genre, and as a result feel suitably gritty and vicious. White directs them well, and there is one particular scene at the start of the movie that, although done to death in other films, is so beautifully framed, and so simple in its colour palette, that it takes on an almost haunting quality.
So, just to sum up, if you like spy thrillers, go see this. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and you will not be taken from left-field for any of it. There are bad guys on both sides, the good guys live in shades of grey, and the corrupt ones might even get their comeuppance. It’s a John le Carré book brought to life on the big screen, and it’s not so bad for doing that. However, if you have found of this sort of thing not to your taste in the past, there is nothing here that’s going to change your mind, and you should give it a fairly wide berth.
- Strong ensemble performance.
- Fairly brutal, and well directed action.
- A spy thriller lifted from the page to the screen.
- Predictable plot.
- A deus ex machina stretch to character’s intelligence.