Director: Susanna White
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Naoime Harris, Damien Lewis and Stellan Skarsgard
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release Date: May 13th
Cinematic adaptations of John le Carré books are exciting. Usually not as prevalent as Stephen King, as high profile as JK Rowling, or as uniform as Tom Clancy, the infrequent adaptations we have seen of his books have been tense, practical looks at the working world of espionage and often the effects it has on those who make secrets their business.
This is where we get The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Le Carré’s spies aren’t the suave womanisers we expect from James Bond types, sharing their identities comfortably with women at bars, or the hand to hand combatants that could match Jason Bourne. Usually of a more subtle school of spying, le Carré’s agents are weathered, paranoid men steeped in histories that give reason enough not to trust anyone, relics of old systems and victims of corruption and secrecy.
Our Kind of Traitor, is different again, in that this sort of spy is not our main character. In fact, Ewan McGregor’s Peregrine “Perry” Makepiece isn’t a spy at all, but a university professor. We meet him as he holidays with his wife Gail (Naomie Harris) in Morocco, a holiday we learn he pushed for, in an attempt to rebuild from as yet unrevealed past misfortune. When Gail, a successful barrister, gets a work call at dinner, Perry is left to himself, until the larger than life, tattooed, foul-mouthed, fantastic Stellan Skarsgard’s Dima notices him alone, and invites him to join the table he is sharing with his henchmen.
What begins as a few drinks develops as they move on to the sort of party only available to larger than life millionaire’s in Morocco, all followed up by tennis the next morning. The plot really kicks off when Dima reveals his status as a talented money launderer for the Russian mob, who fears for his life, and asks Perry to transport something back to England with him, to bargain for asylum for him and his family.
It’s here that we get our hardened, paranoid modern spy, as Damian Lewis’ Hector is called following their interception at customs. This leads to Perry and Gail’s tumultuous marriage being enveloped in the plot to help Dima, wrapped up in conspiracies where not even the British government is entirely on their side. Relationships are formed as a lack of assistance and an apparent enjoyment of the risks causes Perry and Gail to grow more and more involved in the operation.
Ewan McGregor’s Perry is likeable, but not perfect, and his character is an interesting look at what it means to be a good man who has made some mistakes. Damian Lewis’ Hector is an excellent example of the sort of spy we’ve come to expect from le Carré. He has personal motivations, and is clearly not the golden boy of his organisation, but despite his pomp, he is a character that truly wants to do the right thing, as well as gain revenge on those who have wronged him. But as mentioned, it is Skarsgard who stands out, as the money launderer with the big personality and the heart of gold.
Ultimately, it is a practical, fun twist on both spy movies and le Carré’s own spies and an interesting world in which to be immersed for the duration of the film. Unfortunately, there is not much in way of peaks or troughs, and the end result is a film that is tough not to like, but largely quite forgettable. Our Kind of Traitor is a worthy addition to the le Carré spy oeuvre, but lacks the strength to stand out among the rest.