Based on the John Le Carre novel of the same name, Our Kind of Traitor throws an unwitting British couple right in between the Russian Mafia and the British Secret Service, as they try to help a Russian oligarch defect from Russia and save his family. Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Damiaen Lewis and Stellan Skarsgard all star in this largely uneven and hollow adaptation of Le Carre’s work, that relies way too heavily on its character’s unfathomable stupidity to keep the plot ticking along.
Most of this nonsense stems from the film’s subtly named main character, Perry Makepeace (that’s right, Makepeace); played by Ewan McGregor who’s dangerously naïve attitude is the very thing that sparks the plot into life. There’s some attempted justification for his willingness to drag himself and his wife head first into danger for a man he has just met but Perry never actually feels like a real character who makes decisions that we can understand and relate to. And a few lines about honorability do very little to validate Perry’s stupidity in tough situations. He is supposed to be an everyman, relatable and easy to understand, but I find it very hard to relate or even root for a character whose frustrating gullibility seems to spell disaster for everyone around him.
The film’s saving grace and strongest asset is Stellan Skarsgard’s larger than life character, Dima, a member of the Russian mafia who is looking to defect to England, and is willing to trade information about the Mafia’s dealings with a corrupt politician. Skarsgard flourishes in the role as an over the top, stereotypical Russian gangster, effortlessly likable in his quest to save his family, bouncing joyously off the rest of the cast. It’s not just the much-needed humour that Skarsgard’s performance brings to the table but he also enjoys some of the film’s finest emotional moments, showing glimpses of a much deeper character behind the tattoos and violence. It’s unfortunate the rest of the film can’t quite measure up to Dima’s standard, with the rest of the characters coming off somewhat one-dimensional and bland in comparison.
Whilst most of its characters may be boring, Our Kind of Traitor is an absolute sight to behold. Director Susanna White, and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, do a splendid job of making the film look beautiful, taking advantage of the natural elegance of its locations as we jet from Bucharest to Paris to London, the back drop for the tension that ebbs and flows unevenly, coming to a crescendo in a spectacularly shot climatic battle in The French Alps. Its a pity that when the dust clears and the film does begin to wind down, it leaves you feeling so unsatisfied. Potential problems with the UK actually granting asylum to foreign nationals are completely glossed over, and any marital problems between Perry and his wife are largely unresolved, as well as a jumble of plot threads that are left dangling or are just outright ignored.
White certainly shows a flair for visuals even if she struggles with character development, and for a film that had heaps of potential, Our Kind of Traitor never really shows anything particularly spectacular or unique that would help to differentiate it from any previous spy thriller.