Film review: Our Kind of Traitor

David Gritten / 11 May 2016

Saga film critic David Gritten reviews Our Kind of Traitor, the latest film adaptation of a John le Carré work.

Talk about good timing: with a large proportion of the British public still feeling enthralled by the great BBC version of John Le Carré’s novel The Night Manager, here’s another screen adaptation by the great man, hot on its heels. 

Related: Read our review of The Night Manager

Our Kind of Traitor is a less dense, multi-layered story – a thriller that features espionage, but never allows the inner workings and intricacies of the spying game to slow it down with a lot of personal introspection.

Ewan McGregor plays Perry, a somewhat plodding university lecturer who is holidaying with his girlfriend Gail (Naomie Harris) and trying to rekindle their stuttering relationship. At a ludicrously extravagant party in a Marrakech bar, he meets Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), a loud, persuasive fellow who turns out to be a Russian money launderer; he gives Perry a USB stick and asks him to deliver it to British intelligence on his return home.

Thus Perry becomes the classic ‘patsy,’ thrust into a game of intrigue he doesn’t even begin to understand. There’s a Russian mobster known as “The Prince” who is far more scary (not to mention murderous) - than Dima. One of the subplots suggests a British cabinet minister might be profiting from laundered mob money.

As the film progresses, Damian Lewis emerges as the most obvious le Carré character – a disillusioned British intelligence operative with a grudge, eager to stamp out corruption.

It all rattles along nicely under the guidance of British director Susannah Lewis, without ever coming close to the greatness of such le Carré screen works as The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and the two versions of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – or indeed The Night Manager.  

The film employs some attractive locations - London, Paris, the Swiss Alps – but they feel faintly under-used. It’s a solid piece of work, and it must be said that Skarsgrad’s performance as Dima, who turns out to be frighteningly tattooed, is pleasing and memorable. Otherwise, it lacks the depth and the sense of agonisingly divided loyalties that one associates with le Carré; in the end it’s a minor contribution to the growing list of his adaptations. 

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