What it's about:
An ordinary British couple head to Morocco on vacation to try and sort out some of their marital problems but, while there, they come into contact with a charismatic Russian mobster who, after befriending the husband, convinces him to hand over a flash disk to the British government when he returns home. That, however, is only the start of their entanglement with the Russian, who, as it turns out wants Asylum in England for he and his family after his new boss makes it clear that he is out to “clear house” of older “employees” who have outlived their usefulness.
What we thought:
John Le Carre seems to have become, over the past few years, the current “it” author in terms of TV and movie adaptations, what with his paranoia-drenched spy tails clearly resonating strongly with the current political climate. Hot on the heels of his highly acclaimed miniseries, The Night Manager, comes Our Kind of Traitor, a rather old fashioned espionage thriller that still manages to find plenty of intrigue in post-Cold-War Russian/Western relations (and at the same time having nothing whatsoever to do with Putin).
If the blurb at the back of the novel is any indication, much has changed in the journey from print to screen, which might explain why the film feels a lot more throwaway than other recent Le Carre efforts like the rather ponderous A Most Wanted Man and the quietly terrific Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but there's still plenty to enjoy here for fans of the genre.
Mind you, being a committed spy-thriller fan may well give you the advantage over your average cinema goer in terms of being able to appreciate the well-worn genre tropes on display here but they're all done with such (admittedly efficient) straightforwardness that it's hard not to feel like it doesn't do anything in particular that other films haven't done better. Even the idea of focusing on an ordinary civilian, rather than a highly trained spy, isn't that new – and neither is the idea of the spy game being generally much more distasteful than it is glamorous.
The real success of the film, then, certainly isn't originality and it just as certainly isn't emotional rigor or anything particularly substantial to say. Our Kind of Traitor is worth seeing purely because it is so solidly put together. Not flashily or particularly memorably put together, mind you, but there is undoubtedly a certain amount of pleasure to be gained from such solid craftsmanship.
Neither the script (by Hossein Amini) nor the direction (by Susanna White) exactly jump out at you as anything truly special but they both do their job with understated aplomb. The film is tense when it needs to be, and thoughtful and wryly witty the rest of the time, with the plot being carefully and clearly laid out in a way that the overly busy Jason Bourne could only wish was. And yet, just a little bit of that old Bourne style would certainly not have gone amiss.
In the acting department, though, things are actually somewhat more spirited – at least for some of the cast. Ewan McGregor is as likable as ever but he virtually sleep walks through his role here – but, then, he's hardly given tons to work with. Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Damien Lewis, on the other hand, do give the film far more life than it would have otherwise. The latter two ham it up to different but equally enjoyable effect, while Naomie Harris proves to be the calm beating heart at the centre of the film - though all three inject that bit of warmth and sparkiness that an otherwise fairly dry film desperately needed.
I could give you an easy dozen better spy novels, TV shows, novels and comics than Our Kind of Traitor (and I'm not even that huge a fan of the genre) but for a passable night at the cinema, it's really not half bad.