A young couple find themselves embroiled in the shady world of Russian crime syndicates and British Intelligence in this take on le Carré’s novel. There appears to be something of a le Carré renaissance at the moment. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Most Wanted Man, The Night Manager – all have been majorly successful adaptations in recent years. Although Our Kind Of Traitor does not quite match up to the standards of those, it is still an assured entry.
University lecturer Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) and his barrister wife Gail Perkins (Naomie Harris) are on holiday in Marrakesh to mend their marriage but events soon take a sharp turn as Perry is befriended by Russian oligarch Dima (Stellan Skarsgård). Soon, Dima places all his trust in Perry and asks him to go to MI6 in order to save his family from the new head of the Russian mafia. Light on big action set-pieces that are commonplace in other spy films, the unrelenting ramping up of tension and a slower pace in Our Kind Of Traitor is a welcome change and lends the film a more personal feel as we get to know the characters.
Boasting an all-star cast, it is Skarsgård who makes the biggest impression, bringing a warmth to Russia’s self-proclaimed biggest money launderer. He does an impressive job of morphing of maintaining his larger-than-life benevolent gangster image while incorporating a more haunted, dogged persona as the film goes on and the stakes are raised. McGregor, supposed to be the protagonist, is outshone by Skarsgård but does a good enough job of bringing across Perry’s feelings of cynicism at the hypocrisy within the British government.
The supporting cast help tie the whole thing together. Harris brings out the strength and heart in her character, transforming Gail from an angry cheated-on wife who wants no part in the action to someone who willingly throws herself into it to protect Dima’s children at all costs. Damian Lewis is landed with a large amount of expository dialogue but plays MI6 agent Hector Meredith with a suitable tight-lipped reticence. Unfortunately, the only really meaty exchange he gets is when he confronts the government traitor Aubrey Longrigg (Jeremy Northam).
There are some clichéd stylistic choices – the dim orange lights, blue tint – but some of director Susanna White’s shots are very similar in style to the kaleidoscopic ones in her adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End and mirror the complex world that Perry find himself in. One memorable shot that sets the tone early on depicts the flow of blood from a murdered mafia man’s daughter soaking into crystalline snow. The film also boasts some stunning landscape shots from the deserts of Marrakesh to the chilly heights of the French Alps – a job well done by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. Sarah Greenwood – the production designer – also deserves credit for the stylish creation of a lavish gangster’s world.
This taut spy thriller keeps you guessing about who will come out on top – or not – in the murky world of crime and espionage.