MOVIE: OUR KIND OF TRAITOR
STARRING: EWAN MCGREGOR; STELLAN SKARSGARD; NAOMIE HARRIS; DAMIEN LEWIS
DIRECTED BY: SUSANNA WHITE
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
In most movies where random, average joes find themselves at the center of a government scandal, such as Eagle Eye or Wanted, the lead character is typically a frantic runner, who tells those around them, “you got the wrong guy.” In Our Kind of Traitor, the recent John le Carre novel to be made for the big screen, Ewan McGregor plays Perry Makepeace (the name is way too on the nose), a university poetry professor whose demeanor, much like other characters in a le Carre fare, is as cool as a cucumber. He becomes wrapped up in a struggle between a Russian mobster defect and a crooked mobster banking syndicate, in what is less of a spy thriller and more of a “wrong place, wrong time” exercise, but is nonetheless, still an intriguing film.
Perry and his wife Gail (Naomie Harris, not given enough to do here) are vacationing in Marrakesh to repair what's left of their damaged, but loving relationship. On a night out to dinner, they notice a collection of men wildly drinking, enjoying life more than the struggling couple. When the wife steps away to do work, Perry is invited over by Dima (played by a slick haired, sweaty, and tattooed Stellan Skarsgard) to enjoy drinks and a party filled with all the woman and drugs that a Russian mob ring can buy. It develops into a long night out, where the friendship blossoms; even eating breakfast and playing tennis the next morning. Since Perry is an unknown, this makes him the one, and possibly only person, that Dima can entrust with information to take down The Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin) and his Russian brotherhood. They have threatened to kill Dima's family unless he goes along with their money laundering scheme. This makes Perry the middle man and a risk on his life for someone he just met.
In most John le Carre novels adapted for the screen, there is a central character that embodies the moral struggle between doing the right or the wrong thing, typically in a corrupt political environment. In 2014's A Most Wanted Man, Philip Seymour Hoffman delivered another one of his subtly brilliant performances as a German Agent whose conflict is to protect his undercover mole without losing a war with terror. Most of those traditional themes are here in Our Kind of Traitor, but director Susanna White (Nanny McPhee Returns) focuses more on her players, set against beautiful locations such as the French Alps, while the script from Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove) feels lacking in the tense, thrilling scenarios that previous le Carre films offered. It's a testament to the English author that even his lesser work is still better than most of the 2016 summer blockbusters.
What stands out, is an entertaining, never before seen performance from Skarsgard. He carries himself with an exterior machismo which includes courageously showing all of his parts in a Russian bath house. He creates a believable, mob sleaziness, while his strong Russian accent and care for his family reveal a gentle side, like a soft, fluffy pillow. I could have watched a movie just about him. Meanwhile, Perry returns home to hand over the information to British intelligence, lead by the steely eyed MI6 agent named Hector (Homeland's Damien Lewis), who has his own ideas about taking down a former agent involved in the mix. Now the plan must be executed to safely betray the gangsters without any blood being shed.
I can't say Our Kind of Traitor is re-inventing the way we look at cinema any time soon, but it miraculously succeeds for what it is working with. The budget is small, which shows in some poor editing choices, and the script could have used a few more read throughs. Yet, even with all of those flaws, the performances from McGregor and Skarsgard lift it up to a quality level. Not to mention, Our Kind of Traitor has an ending that surprised the hell out of me. I would deem it worthy of watching on a lazy weekend or at least enough to inspire fans to visit some of John le Carre's other works. He truly is one of the best writers of all time.
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady