Our Kind of Traitor

by Toby Woollaston

It appears that author John le Carré’s work has become the darling of movie executives in the same way that John Grisham’s books were 20 years ago. However, like Grisham, le Carré’s books are hit-and-miss when it comes to their translation to the big screen, and needless to say, this is partly due to the treatment by the studio of the source material. So it was with some trepidation that I tiptoed lightly into the cinema to see le Carré’s latest adaptation.

Our Kind of Traitor tells the story of a young couple; Perry (played by the very likeable, but somewhat bland Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris). While on holiday in Marrakech, the couple cross paths with Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), a charismatic Russian oligarch who plans to defect. Dima’s intentions appear noble to Peter who lacks the street smarts required to deal with the situation. The couple nose-dive into a political melange that quickly involve the British Secret Service and the Russian Mafia.

A curious lack of chemistry between McGregor and Harris is salvaged by the fact (or more likely, coincidence) that the pairing’s discord affirm their onscreen counterparts, who are struggling to reignite their relationship. Whatever the reason, the flat performances do not make for compelling viewing. Damian Lewis who plays Hector, a MIA operative, tries hard to liven things up, but it is the ever reliable Skarsgard who gives the film some semblance of energy. The resulting patchwork of character depth is unsettling and points to ill-considered production choices rather than le Carré’s source material.

Dexterous cinematography and post production trickery go some way to disguise the fact that Our Kind of Traitor is a very conventionally shot film. English director Susanna White’s cannon of work is predominantly television, which perhaps explains her safe approach to the subject matter (although it must be said that the lines are becoming increasingly blurred between big and small screen). It is evident that White struggles to break away from her television roots, and ultimately the production becomes formulaic.

I would love to say Our Kind of Traitor is a refreshing new take on the spy thriller, but unfortunately it isn’t. In a few years I will fondly remember le Carré’s other screen adaptations – Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Mierelles’ The Constant Gardner – for their engaging approach to the genre. Unfortunately, Our Kind of Traitor will have long been forgotten.

Rating: 2/5 stars.

Read the published review here.