Starring Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Naomie Harris, Damian Lewis, Jeremy Northam, Alicia von Rittberg, Pawel Szajda
3.5 STARS (out of 5)
Spy films are, sadly, not as ten a penny as you may think. While last year’s Spooks movie revival and the Gary Oldman fronted Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy remain some of cinema’s best espionage thrillers in recent years, it is still a genre that is lacking support in the cinema – and this may well because many cinemagoers find such pictures overly murky, or overly complicated – whereas the James Bond franchise has long since simplified the genre and added in a number of thrills and spills to beef up the action, and 2015’s Kingsman ran the perfect line between humour and intrigue in its novel take on the world of secret agents. So, then, it is a moderate surprise to see a fairly traditional spy thriller creep into theatres in the middle of May – and while John Le Carre’s latest adaptation may not contain the plot tangles and elaborate schemes that his previous screen work may have used to their advantage, Our Kind of Traitor nevertheless remains entertaining cinema for fans and newbies to the genre.
Our Kind of Traitor revolves around Oxford teacher Ewan McGregor and his lawyer partner Naomie Harris finding themselves pulled into the life of a Russian millionaire (Stellan Skarsgard) – one who likes to play a lot of tennis – and one who is willing to trade secrets in return for his family’s escape from the Russian Mafia, of which he is involved with. The affable millionaire’s story charms the British couple and they soon find themselves acting with the foreign office – led by Damian Lewis, who in turn wishes to exact revenge upon a UK government representative involved in banking with the Mafia for a very personal reason – to try and help the Russian leaker gain asylum in the UK in return for a list of names and account numbers associated with criminal bank accounts. What transpires is a tense and well-plotted drama that’s both well-acted and expertly paced.
The cast is great, too – McGregor is an ideal everyman that just wants everyone to be happy. Harris is perfect in chemistry as his girlfriend, an attorney whom is currently struggling to keep her relationship alive. Skarsgard runs a fantastic line between addictively friendly yet potentially dangerous, and it isn’t long before we as an audience are charmed to his side – and for good reason, as his Mafia buddies are certainly no-nonsense to a fault – and Lewis shines as a government representative who wants the codes that Skarsgard is obtaining more than anything in the world – a man who is willing to bend the rules to expose criminal activity (and get a little bit of personal revenge on the side).
Our Kind Of Traitor - Official Trailer (Studiocanal)
Our Kind of Traitor’s strength lies largely in its storytelling; unlike some spy thrillers it’s extremely easy to follow and the character motivations easy to spot and just as easy to get behind. There are traditional John Le Carre underhanded dealings and twists in the tale that propel the final act or so into some great dramatic territory, and the general cinematography and direction is appropriate – if not better suited to a TV audience. Most bizarrely, there seems to be encouraged product placement for a certain British football club in the first third of the movie, but this never quite distracts from the action.
However, the movie’s simplicity and affability also provide to its pitfalls – it is an unfortunately predictable story and one that is astonishingly simple for both a Le Carre work and for spy film in general. This is a fairly by-the-numbers piece that sadly wins no plaudits for originality or challenges to the audience, and anyone even slightly interested in the genre will be able to decipher how the movie ends long before it ever does. As such, it remains a little underwhelming – there are sights of how it could be, the greatness it could have achieved with more tension, more buried twists and turns or even a side plot or two to flesh the picture out into a thriller tour de force. As such, it remains a fairly harmless trot through negotiation and organised crime, lacking the brooding tenacity and genuine intrigue of something like Tinker, Tailor to truly emerge as a shining example of the genre.
On the whole, however, this is a very easy movie to watch, and those who aren’t too entrenched in espionage movies will be able to sit through and moderately enjoy it. As a film, it is well-made, well-paced and well-acted – but it is sadly lightweight in the areas that could elevate it to greatness beyond its station. Regardless of this, Our Kind of Traitor is a hidden gem among bigger, louder movies that demands attention if you like stories with pace, conclusiveness and character.