Our Kind of Traitor (2016) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A middling adaptation of John le Carré novel

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“Our Kind of Traitor”, which is based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré, engaged me to some degrees but then eventually disappointed me. Although this is a fairly watchable espionage thriller film with some good elements to draw our attention, it does not have enough narrative momentum to maintain our interest, and it only leaves a rather hollow impression in the end despite the admirable efforts from its cast and crew members.

After the chilling opening sequence which ends with a brutal and ruthless act of killing at a remote spot somewhere in Russia, we meet Perry MacKendrick (Ewan McGregor) and his wife Gail (Naomie Harris), an ordinary middle-class British couple who is in the middle of a vacation in Marrakech, Morocco. It is pretty apparent right from their first scene that their relationship has not been exactly good, and Perry, who is an English literature professor, tries his best for making his wife feel better, but Gail, who is a successful lawyer working in London, still does not feel that fine for a reason which you can easily guess even before it is revealed later in the story.

When they are going to have a dinner at some posh local restaurant, they notice a bunch of Russian guys having a rowdy time there, and one of these Russian guys approaches to Perry during Gail’s temporary absence. His name is Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), and he suggests that Perry should go to a party being held in his big mansion. Although he understandably hesitates at first, Perry comes to accept Dima’s suggestion, and we soon see Perry surrounded by the wild, hedonistic mood of the ongoing party as he enters Dima’s mansion along with Dima and other Russian guys.

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Rather than swept by this mood, Perry holds himself quite well. When he happens to spot some burly tattooed guy attempting to rape a woman, he instantly intervenes in this very unpleasant circumstance, and this brave act of decency impresses Dima, who turns out to be a mobster just like that burly tattooed guy. In the next morning, he virtually pushes Perry into a tennis match with him, and then he invites Perry and Gail to the upcoming birthday party for his teenage daughter.

While enjoying Dima’s hospitality, Perry and Gail starts to sense something odd about Dima and the people around him. Although constantly surrounded by his associates, he does not look very comfortable, no matter how much he tries to hide that behind his swagger. In case of his wife and other family members, they do not look like having a good time with him, and Gail becomes particularly concerned about two quiet girls in the group.

It is during that birthday part that Perry comes to learn a lot more about Dima, who knows a lot about the extensive financial network of his criminal organization as its No.1 money launderer. While Dima has been a crucial part of the organization for many years, the new boss of the organization is going to not only take everything from him but also eliminate him and his family, and Dima must find any possible way to save himself and his family. While no one is watching them, he gives Perry a memory stick containing a valuable piece of information, and he asks Perry to approach to any British government official who may help Dima and his family.

Because he comes to care about Dima and Dima’s family, Perry agrees to do that job, which is done faster than he expected. Once he returns to London along with Gail, he tries to contact with anyone to help him, and an MI6 official named Hector (Damian Lewis) soon enters the picture along with his two assistant agents. Thanks to that piece of information from Dima, Hector comes to learn of the hidden connection among Dima’s organization, British financial industry, and a bunch of corrupt British politicians, and he becomes quite determined to pursue this vast criminal connection.

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And that is how Perry and Gail find themselves getting far more involved in this situation. After persuaded by Hector, they ‘come across’ Dima in Paris as planned in advance, and Perry soon becomes a sort of middleman between Hector and Dima. While Hector doggedly asks for more information, Dima adamantly demands the guarantee of his and his family’s safety, and the situation becomes all the more precarious as the members of Dima’s organization begin to suspect Dima more than ever.

The movie tries to keep things rolling as providing several nice moments including a suspenseful sequence alternating between two different places in Berne, Swiss, but it never generates sufficient tension on the whole, and we come to observe its story and characters from the distance. While mostly faithful to le Carré’s novel, the adapted screenplay by Hossein Amini often falters as trying to sort out its rather murky plot, and it ultimately fizzles with its disappointing ending which feels contrived to say the least.

Overall, “Our Kind of Traitor” is not as satisfying as other recent movie adaptations of le Carré novels such as “Tinker Solider Tailor Spy” (2011) and “A Most Wanted Man” (2014), but this is not a total failure at all thanks to director Susanna White’s competent direction and her four main performers’ solid acting. As a guy who recently read le Carré’s novel, I recommend you to read the book instead, but you may be entertained by the movie if you do not expect much from it.

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