A rich and rewarding spy thriller featuring an all-star cast, Our Kind of Traitor focuses on the Russian mafia and money laundering in the UK.
A British university lecturer, Perry (Ewan McGregor), and his lawyer wife, Gail (Naomie Harris), are having their issues after being married for a decade or more. They take a break to Marrakech to try to reconnect and that is where McGregor is befriended by a flamboyant, gregarious and charismatic Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgård). Dima invites Perry to lavish parties and to play tennis. Unbeknown to Perry though, Dima is a kingpin in a Russian money laundering operation who wants to defect with his family to the UK. Before Perry and Gail leave Morocco to head home, Dima prevails upon his new mate to deliver some classified material to MI6 via a USB drive.
Naively, Perry agrees and before you know it he and Gail become ensnared in a dangerous world of international espionage, dirty politics and murder. The man pulling the strings is Hector (Damian Lewis), a determined but poorly resourced MI6 agent with his own axe to grind. Perry and Gail’s perilous journey takes them through Paris and Bern to the French Alps. At stake are not only billions of dollars, but the safety of Dima’s family.
Our Kind of Traitor is based upon a novel by spy writer extraordinaire John le Carré (the mind behind Tinker Tailor Solider Spy) and has been written for the screen by Hossein Amini (The Two Faces of January). Amini worked closely with le Carré on the first couple of drafts. “I would write and he’d give me notes,” says Amini of their collaboration. “One of the themes of le Carré’s work is that Britain has almost declined as a world power, but we still have these British values that come from a time when Britain was on top of the world and had a moral responsibility,” Amini says. “As that power has waned, that morality has turned into something far more like compromise. He is very interested in the impact of the decline of British power on a moral system. That’s what our film is about.”
It is directed by two-time Emmy nominee Susanna White (Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang).
Damian Lewis is right when he says this is as much a character piece as it is a suspenseful thriller. “It’s not a ‘who done it’, it’s more of a ‘can they do it?’” he suggests Le Carré’s characters have long been engrained in the public imagination as the crumpled, cynical counterparts to the polished dash of James Bond. For the filmmakers, the job at hand was to craft a feature to fit into the le Carré canon and also to stand out within it.
Like a Bond movie, Our Kind of Traitor features a number of exotic locales, but it feels far more real. Skarsgård is one of the standouts as Dima – a man full of bravado, but on edge about his family’s future. His is a “look at me” performance, purporting to show strength, but carrying vulnerability by virtue of his family’s wellbeing, which is imperiled. Damian Lewis is equally impressive as Hector, the Englishman with strong moral fibre who goes outside the system to do what he feels is right. He is the proper English gentleman, immaculately spoken and turned out, who is not afraid to upset the establishment. McGregor and Harris play their parts too as the ordinary citizens caught up in extraordinary events … and going far beyond their call of duty.
Our Kind of Traitor looks and feels good from the get go and is tension-filled throughout. While you will probably be able to pick a number of supposed twists (one, in particular, being almost a spy cliché), the overall offering has strength and heart. The result is a most enjoyable ride that won’t disappoint aficionados of the genre. Rated MA, it scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Susanna White
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis, Stellan Skarsgård
Release Date: 14 July, 2016
Rating: MA15+ – Strong coarse language
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television