Our Kind Of Traitor

In Films by Alex Moss Editor

Off the back of the hugely successful TV adaptation of The Night Manager, John Le Carré is once again a hot screen property. Our Kind Of Traitor, based on Le Carré’s 2010 novel of the same name, assembles an impressive cast, is adapted by the writer of Drive and is directed by Susanna White, a veteran of such TV excellence as Boardwalk Empire and Generation Kill. But does this espionage thriller live up to its billing or betray the source material?

Estranged couple Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) are on holiday in Marrakesh when Perry is approached by Russian mafia money launderer Dima (Stellan Skarsgård). Dima is aware that the Russian mafia are trying to go legit but in order to do so need him to help them infiltrate the English banking system. Terrified for his own and his family’s safety Dima needs Perry to give evidence to MI6 in the hope of defecting and naming all those involved. But with MI6 wanting assurances that the information he can provide is accurate Perry and Gail find themselves struggling to know who they can trust in the game of tug of war for Dima’s knowledge.

Our Kind Of Traitor is from the same stable as The Night Manager, The Ink Factory, of which Le Carré is an executive producer. It is therefore unfortunate that Traitor’s biggest enemy is the constant comparison it will naturally draw from the superior Manager. Because Tom Hiddleston’s TV starrer lurks in the shadows of Traitor like a smug former bedfellow.
Because Traitor feels like it should be made for TV rather than the big screen. That’s not to say that White and director of photography, Danny Boyle regular Anthony Dod Mantle don’t inject it with a sense of the grand because they do. But rather that it feels more character driven, the kind of story that would benefit from the long-form medium of slowly drip feeding you revelations about both character and dense plot. Instead though the cinematic version skips over, or just barely touches upon, key moments that would otherwise make for a narrative more immersive and interesting.

Key to this are throwaway motives such as the reason Damian Lewis’ MI6 agent is so desperate to see a Member of Parliament brought to justice. Or why Gail and Perry are estranged from each other. These points are addressed but so fleetingly that you are never able to fully invest in the characters.

McGregor always feels too calm and subdued as Perry, even in a moment where this poetics professor is asked to handle a gun it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to him. Lewis is a little too stiff upper lip as Hector, his performance is solid but his accent is bordering in Austin Powers levels of cliche. The highlights though are Skarsgård’s foul-mouthed but lovable Dima and Harris’ passive aggressive Gail. While Gail is too often sidelined the film is at its best when it allows her to show her mental strength and emotional warmth.

Our Kind Of Traitor shows great potential with moments of intrigue but betrays the rich characters on offer rather than getting under their skin.