Review: 'Our Kind of Traitor'

Ewan McGregor is a reluctant spy in John Le Carre adaptation
PROF. BOND: Literature professor Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) finds himself in the midst of international intrigue after unwittingly making friends with a Russian with serious secrets.

After the Brexit vote—the single stupidest British political decision since the reign of King Lear—a fantasy of English intrepidness is welcome. It arrives in Our Kind of Traitor, Susanna White's adaptation of John Le Carre.

We begin with betrayal. "The Prince" (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the new head of the vor, the Russian mafia, is going legit; part of the public effort to get respectable involves signing over his murky accounts into a bank being considered for the London exchanges. The ink isn't dry when the Prince's former associate is ambushed in the snow by machine gunners.

Cut, Bond-movie style, from the snows to the sands. In Marrakech, a bored lit professor named Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) is trying to patch things up on a vacation with his furious wife Gail, a lawyer (Naomi "Miss Moneypenny" Campbell).

After Gail stomps away from the restaurant, Perry is invited to join a wild party, hosted by a globetrotting Russian bigwig named Dima. Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard plays the big-hearted Slavic stereotype with infectious pleasure. Urging the professor to join him, he malapropizes: "Dun't be a sourpussy."

After Perry punches a rapey guest at Dima's party, the Russian sees a man he can trust. Dima—who turns out to be a wealthy money-launderer—is next on the Prince's hit list. He wants to defect to England. If Perry can kindly drop off a thumb-drive to British customs, MI6 will have proof that Dima has lots more info for them, and he'll be able to hide from the Russian mob in London. But Hector, the government agent handling the case—played by Damian Lewis with a mean pursy smile and three-piece suit—has bigger plans for the professor and his wife.

Our Kind of Traitor is my kind of adaptation for the first two acts, with satisfying locations and loads of thugs in tuxes. The renowned cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle makes it a watery world of treachery—a vision of rain-spotted car windows and the shimmering blue reflections cast up from swimming pools. In an apartment in a slummy Parisian banlieue, the oval windows are lit like an aquarium.

But finally the film loses its tension, and Gail's transformation from pissed-off spouse to willing partner in international intrigue is far too abrupt. Her change of heart is justified with a burst of altruistic dialogue: "Maybe we've been better at looking after other people than looking after each other." Someone should have looked after the script.

Our Kind of Traitor
R; 1hr. 47 min.
Opens Friday at Camera 12

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