This adaptation of John le Carré’s 2010 novel succeeds thanks less to its fairly workmanlike script, yet more for its terrific ensemble cast and Susanna White’s thoroughly sturdy direction. It’s no classic, but an entertaining and satisfying spy romp all the same.
While Peregrine “Perry” Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) is on holiday with his partner Gail (Naomie Harris), Perry gets friendly with Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a money launderer for the Russian mob who slips Perry a flash drive with a request to hand it to the British authorities on his way home. As Dima claims that his family is being targeted by the mob, a skeptical government officer, Hector (Damian Lewis), gets involved, and Perry must decide whether or not to help Dima get his family safe.
Though certainly not as sophisticated as adaptations of le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or A Most Wanted Man, Traitor certainly rises far above being merely a functional thriller. Curiously, the pic is arguably at its best in its opening first act before the espionage plot even properly kicks off; McGregor and Skarsgård’s bro-tastic chemistry is highly entertaining in of itself, though once Lewis arrives on the scene, the pic assuredly wants for him every scene where he’s not present.
Still, the film in many ways belongs to Skarsgård, a criminally underrated character actor who deserves to be known for more than a fairly minor supporting character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His unrelenting performance is by turns deliciously charming, hilarious, and undeniably buffeted by percolating, understated sadness as the net appears to pull ever tighter on him and his family.
The plotting may be fairly standard spook flick fare, but Oscar-nominated screenwriter Hossein Amini digs in deep with his characters and smartly keeps the focus there. Never mind the tacked-on relationship troubles between Perry and his wife, for Dima’s peculiar relationship with Perry and the slow-burning mystery of Lewis’ role are plenty to keep most intrigued to the finish line.
In addition to the sharp performances and snappy dialogue, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is similarly on-point, making this quite the sophisticated, stylish leap for director Susanna White’s sophomore feature (her first being Nanny McPhee Returns). It won’t set the world alight, but it unquestionably deserves a better treatment than its virtually non-existent advertising campaign, not to mention press reviews that weren’t released largely until the day before release. Whoever did the shoddy UK PR for this film is a traitor in business for themselves.
Our Kind of Traitor is in UK cinemas now and US cinemas July 1st