“I thought it was the right thing to do.”
I don’t know much about John Le Carré or his writing. The only book of his I read was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and, considering the quality of the film, I seem to be the only person I know that really enjoyed the 2011 adaptation that starred, well, everyone.
I know the man has had a ton of his work adapted for film and television, including the recently acclaimed BBC thriller The Night Manager – I didn’t know it was La Carré until I went to check his bibliography this morning – that I just haven’t had time or opportunity to watch. Such is life.
But now, long-time TV director Susanne White has brought a few names; including Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomi Harris and Damien Lewis; together to bring us an adaptation of the spy aficionado’s 2010 novel, Our Kind of Traitor.
While on a romantic holiday, University lecturer Perry (McGregor) and his lawyer lady-friend Gail (Harris) make the acquaintance of a loud, brash but charismatic mob money-man Dima (Skarsgård). After spending more time than a man on holiday with his other half should spend with a complete stranger, Perry discovers that Dima isn’t just being nice for the sake of it, he’s trying to get the lecturer to help him defect to the UK before the new mob hierarchy have him killed.
But as is always the way, things just don’t go smoothly for future traitors and when Perry gets back home and tells the government of the mafia middle-leader’s plan, they are less than convinced. This leaves the happy couple helping out Hector (Lewis) a spy with an axe to grind who has to run his operation to get Dima and his family away from the mob off the books and away from the prying eyes of his bosses. The group find themselves in a race against the clock as their world shrinks around them with both the Russians and the British trying to quash the would-be defectors plans.
What is perhaps most surprising about Our Kind of Traitor, being an honest-to-goodness spy thriller, is the complete lack of spies. Or thrills. While all the elements are there for what should be a great film, I left the screening I was in feeling an overwhelming desire to take a nap.
Considering director Susanne White’s pedigree – having worked on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Generation Kill, shows that existed solely to run at a glacial pace but to keep everything interesting – her pacing here is all off, with no real consistency across the less than two hour running time. Her cast don’t seem too interested with what they’re doing either. I mean, it’s pretty funny watching Ms. Moneypenny tell Obi-Wan Kenobi to “Fuck off”, but the realisation that that had just happened was pretty much the high point of the film for me. Damien Lewis all but confirms what I’ve always thought about him in as much as, while I like him, he’s supremely lucky to be where he is now and not starring in mid-season prime time BBC dramas.
Good old Mr. Skarsgård is alright as the main money-man; even if, in a few of his recent roles, he’s been a little too fond of getting his nob out. Honestly, it’s concerning. I’m scared that Thor isn’t going to be the only one waving his hammer around in Ragnarok next year. With a supporting cast that includes Snatch‘s Velibor Topic, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Northam; I don’t know. Maybe I just expected more.
Overall, Our Kind of Traitor is pretty average. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just there. There’s certainly no harm in watching it and it’s not a complete waste of your time. I just wouldn’t go in expecting the world. Realistically, I think it probably would have been better suited to a two or three part mini-series on a channel that lets you swear. As it is, it was financed by Film4 and Amazon Prime Instant Video. It’ll be on one of those soon enough and you can make up your own mind.