Our Kind of Traitor

 

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The latest adaptation of a novel by John le Carré is certainly watchable but hardly memorable.

 

Our Kind of Traitor

Damian Lewis 

 

In 2014 the screen version of John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man saw Philip Seymour Hoffman giving a final great performance in a lead role. That was a film which captured the true spirit of le Carré’s disenchanted view of modern life, something already achieved, and memorably so, in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965) and in the TV adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. This new film does contain one sharp scene in which the City of London and the world of finance are savaged over their willingness to turn a blind eye when big money is involved but, that moment apart, this is a less personal work than one would expect. Not having read the novel, I cannot say if this is just minor le Carré or if it is a case of the adaptor, Hossein Amini, failing to capture the essence.

As directed by Susanna White, Our Kind of Traitor has a suitably dark-toned opening which then leads into the story of how a teacher from London, Perry (Ewan McGregor), on holiday in Marrakech with his barrister wife (Naomie Harris) is accosted by a Russian. This is Dima (Stellan Skarsgård ) who, despite being involved with the mob over top level arrangements for laundering money, realises that he has become a marked man. Perry strikes him as an honest man and Dima gambles on his being willing to take a memory stick to the authorities in London. This will be  evidence that Dima desires to turn over vital proof of what is going on in return for protection for himself and his family. But, while Perry accepts this task, clinching the deal becomes complicated: in consequence he and his wife, despite having their own personal problems, end up by becoming further involved, first in Paris and then in the Swiss Alps.

The storyline is less complex and intriguing than one expects from le Carré, but the experienced Anthony Dod Mantle takes advantage of the locations photographed in colour and ’Scope and both Skarsgård and Harris play with assurance. Other examples of casting are less adept: to choose Jeremy Northam to play a crooked politician looks like a cliché in itself, Damien Lewis as an MI6 operative is able but without that extra definitive authenticity and, if Hoffman was crucial to A Most Wanted Man, the selection of McGregor seems only an approximation. To be fair, it is the elevation of an imperfect but principled man into an action hero which makes Our Kind of Traitor ring false betraying both credibility and our idea of what le Carré represents. At times there are distant echoes of Hitchcock in the writing, but White’s direction lacks the master’s special flair and their presence only adds to the sense of a tale that never quite finds its own tone, be it as a traditional le Carré work or as something rather different.

  

MANSEL STIMPSON       

  

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris, Jeremy Northam, Khalid Abdalla, Mark Gatiss, Saskia Reeves, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Alicia von Rittberg, Mark Stanley.

  

Dir Susanna White, Pro Gail Egan, Stephen Cornwell and Simon Cornwell, Screenplay Hossein Amini from the novel by John le Carré, Ph Anthony Dod Mantle, Pro Des Sarah Greenwood, Ed Tariq Anwar and Lucia Zucchetti, Music Marcelo Zarvos, Costumes Julian Day.

 

StudioCanal/Film4/an Ink Factory production/Potboiler Productions etc.-StudioCanal Limited.
108 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 13 May 2016. Cert. 15.