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Our Kind of Traitor - DVD Review

Our Kind f Traitor

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE work of John le Carré has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years following the cinematic success of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the TV success of The Night Manager.

Our Kind of Traitor is another film to be based on a le Carré piece but despite an excellent cast feels like the lesser of that trio of work.

In part, this is down to the premise, which requires a major leap of disbelief. But the direction, by Susanna White, lacks the seductive visual style that Susanne Bier injected into The Night Manager, or the tension that accompanied Tinker Tailor.

Ewan McGregor stars as an academic on holiday with his wife (Naomie Harris) who bumps into a Russian gangster (Stellan Skarsgård) in a bar, prompting him to become a broker in a deal between said mobster and British intelligence.

Their ensuing relationship becomes far more complex than McGregor intended, as he inadvertently becomes drawn deeper and deeper into the deal and feels responsible for the safety of Skarsgård’s family. And there’s also uncertainty about the trustworthiness of the British intelligence officer (Damian Lewis) in charge of the case, who seems motivated more by personal feeling than professionalism.

White’s thriller makes for absorbing rather than gripping viewing and is solid enough for those who like their spy dramas to tick certain boxes. There are double crosses and the material is laden with possibility enough to give the cast plenty to work with.

Skarsgård, in particular, shines as the charismatic gangster – by turns abhorrent yet sympathetic. A cold-blooded killer when he needs to be, he’s also a loyal family man and friend. It’s a complex role that arguably deserves even more screen-time than it gets.

Lewis, too, is great as the intelligence man driven by personal reasons: his desperation to secure the deal and land Skarsgård’s hood key to bringing down another nemesis from his past.

Indeed, Our Kind of Traitor is as enjoyable as it is because of those two. McGregor and Harris are much less interesting… their marital difficulties are never really explored and deprive the film of any tension that surely must have existed between them on the page.

While McGregor’s macho heroics seem a little too reckless and life endangering, rendering his academic more of an unlikely cinematic creation rather than a flesh and blood creation.

White, for her part, does toss in some suitably sinister fellow Russian hoods, as well as a smarmy British politician (all too fleetingly played by the stalwart Jeremy Northam) – but again fails to make the best use of them. And a couple of early sequences involving sexual violence also feel unnecessary and vaguely exploitative, adding a layer of sleaze that the movie could have done without.

Our Kind of Traitor is a watchable thriller that hints at being greater than it really is.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 48mins
UK Blu-ray and DVD Release: September 12, 2016