The trickiest tightrope walked in Our Kind of Traitor is getting the audience to buy that a civilian with absolutely no espionage experience would be up to his neck helping the British MI6 smuggle a Russian mobster into political asylum. Everytime the brain wants to reject this ludicrous notion, the intelligent script (by Hossein Amini) manages to wriggle off the hook. This makes for a generally good spy flick, with some good thrills and a pair of great performances.
The film was directed by more assurance by Susannah White than would be expected, given her only other major feature is Nanny McPhee Returns. But the film has the sleek, sexy look of a spy film, with lots of soft focus and numerous exotic locations–Marrakesh, Paris, Bern, and London. I haven’t read the source novel, but I’m guessing fans of the genre will enjoy the film.
The amateur in this case is Ewan MacGregor as professor of poetry. He is in Morocco on a holiday with his wife, Naomie Harris. They’re trying to kick-start their marriage–there’s a line dropped in about an affair with a student–but it’s not working. She leaves him alone in a restaurant to take a business call when he is befriended by an ursine Russian (Stellan Skarsgard), who takes him out for a night on the town, and then invites him for tennis the next day.
To cut to the chase–Skarsgard is a money launderer for the Russian mob, and has proof that British MPs have taken bribes to open a bank in London to dry clean billions of Russian rubles. Skarsgard knows he’s a marked man and wants his family taken to safety, so picks out MacGregor to smuggle a thumb-drive with sensitive information on it back to England.
That’s when an intelligence officer (Damian Lewis) gets interested. He’s got a grudge against one of the MPs (Jeremy Northam) and proceeds with the case even though he doesn’t get authorization from the home office (this is where MacGregor’s involvement becomes more feasible. also that he’s the only person Skarsgard trusts). So it’s a race as to whether the small group of British can get the Russians to safety before everybody gets killed.
What makes Our Kind of Traitor interesting is not MacGregor or Harris’s marital woes, or almost anything about them. It’s the pathos that Skarsgard brings and the intense focus Lewis does. Both of these men turn in award-worthy performances. I especially liked Lewis, who appears to be a proper English gentlemen but is brimming with anger.
Our Kind of Traitor is not a great film by any means but it makes for a decent evening’s entertainment. It’s not as complicated as some LeCarre works, it moves briskly, and there’s genuine emotion involved.