Starring: Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Damien Lewis
While on holiday abroad, a couple (McGregor and Naomie Harris) are asked by Dima (Skarsgård), an accountant for the Russian Mafia (Skarsgård) to give incriminating evidence for those he works for to MI6. Knowing that it is only a matter of time before the new head of the Mafia has him and his family killed, his intention is to use his evidence to negotiate asylum for him and his family in the UK. The couple give the information to an MI6 agent (Lewis), but what they thought would be a simple one off act of doing what they believe is the right thing leads to them becoming increasingly caught up in a murky world of international espionage.
Most of us love a gold old fashioned yarn about international espionage and a bit of cloak and dagger, but so many times cinema fails to get it right with clunky and clichéd stories. Well, adapting a John Le Carré novel is often a good starting point, and I of course am not in a position to judge the novel, but this film adaptation is just totally generic, middle-of-the-road fluff that though watchable and competently made, is never any more than that.
Visually, director Susanna White does a solid job; we get long, lingering tracking shots, moody lighting and music, and various visually effective locations which make for atmospheric scenes, but there is always something hideously lacking in the film’s plot. Other screen adaptations of Le Carré novels have been about plot, dialogue and atmosphere, as opposed to Jason Bourne style action, but the main problem with Our Kind of Traitor is that though the plot is well-paced, it never truly grips as it is ultimately both weak and predictable. Admittedly there is always a consistent (but minute) level of tension and intrigue, making the film very watchable, but its generic aesthetics and weak plot make it highly forgettable.
Of all the protagonists so far in Le Carré adaptations, Ewan McGregor’s Perry Makepeace (terrible name) should be one of the more engaging and sympathetic as he is just an everyman completely out of his depth. Yet both the script and McGregor’s performance fail to portray this with any level of effectiveness beyond that of forgettable competence. A protagonist that is hard to truly route for or care about is never a good foundation, and it basically sums up the standards of the rest of the film.
The rest of the film’s characters are not exactly great either, with Naomie Harris’ character just being annoying and truly at the mercy of the narrative. Her performance is as bland as the rest of her performances, but again the script does not do her character any favours.
Stellan Skarsgård is on the other hand his usual charismatic self, and does often save the film from descending into total middle of the road nonsense, as he at least brings a bit of edge to his character that adds some interest that the script often does fail to provide.
However the main standout is Damien Lewis; he chews scenery like his life depends on it as an MI6 agent. Normally it is the kind of over the top performance that would be lambasted and ruin a film of this nature, but as Our Kind of Traitor is so generic and bland, when Lewis is on screen his intense scenery chewing is actually the most attention-grabbing thing. This in turn makes his character the most interesting, especially as he does actually have a backstory and Lewis’ performance enhances that backstory and motivations behind his character’s actions within the narrative.
As the plot clumsily and clunkily goes from one location to another, the consistent pace and competent storytelling certainly make for a watchable enough yarn, but with the main ‘twists’ being predictable and the characters being very bland, the most interesting things about Our Kind of Traitor is its title.
The middle of the road is a comfortable, but largely unexciting place to be, but that is where Our Kind of Traitor firmly places itself from start to finish; it is competently made and never anything less than watchable, but a very forgettable waste of potential.