Our Kind of Traitor **

You know a story is in trouble when the main characters don’t even need to be in the movie. 

Is it worth $10? No     

“Our Kind of Traitor” is not my kind of traitor movie. It lacks suspense, logical motivations and coherence. A globetrotting story of secret intelligence and high corruption should, at its heartiest, captivate with intrigue, solid performances and twists you can’t see coming. It has none of the above.

Sure there’s a traitor involved, but not an interesting one. The traitor is Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), a money launderer for the Russian Mafia whose new boss (Grigoriy Dobrygin) wants him dead. While on holiday in Marrakech, Dima befriends husband and wife tourists Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris), and asks Perry to take a disk back to London for MI6. Stupidly – probably because he’s weak-willed and has a terrible haircut – Perry agrees.

Really, disk transportation should’ve been the end of it for Perry and Gail. But the story, adapted by Hossein Amini and based on the John LeCarre novel of the same name, stubbornly insists on keeping them involved. MI6 Agent Hector (Damian Lewis) tells them Dima doesn’t trust British intelligence to do right by him, so Perry and Gail need to tag along when Hector meets Dima.

Here the story strains and loses you. It’s established that Perry and Gail are in need of personal redemption, but in no way does that justify their inclusion in the rest of the plot. They owe Dima nothing, yet risk their lives to save him and his family. Anyone in their right mind would’ve said “not my problem!” to continuing to meet with Dima, and because they don’t everything else strains credulity.
This would be more forgivable if Dima were likeable, but he’s not. He’s a loud, obnoxious brute who admits to doing bad things and is laudable now only for wanting to keep his family safe. That’s all well and good, but we barely get to know his tribe outside of a cursory introduction, so the audience never has an emotional investment in Dima’s loved ones.

Thus because we don’t care about Dima’s family, or him, and find Perry and Gail so irretrievably stupid for allowing themselves to be involved in this situation, the whole movie falters. Director Susanna White had the pieces to construct a taut espionage thriller, but what we have instead is a labored, unsympathetic look at money laundering and personal vendettas that focuses on the wrong characters. European locales such as London, Paris and Bern add to the allure, but far too often moments that should be full of tension struggle to register. The only remotely resonant scene takes place inside a tennis club as Dima and Perry secretly meet with Hector while the Mafia watches their every move, but even this sequence could be improved with a stronger musical score and tighter pacing.

Le Carre’s work is often seen as the antithesis to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, meaning it’s supposed to be harsher and grittier and less fun. That’s fine, and perhaps in print “Our Kind of Traitor” is compelling and engaging. On screen, unfortunately, it’s neither.

Did you know?
Le Carre’s real name is David Cornwell; in real life he worked for England’s MI5 (which is for domestic threats, similar to the FBI) and MI6 (for foreign threats, similar to the CIA) in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

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