Regular readers will know that quiet intelligent spy thrillers are a favourite of mine and that I’m an avid reader of John Le Carré novels, so Our Kind of Traitor looked promising in spite of mediocre reviews. For quiet spy thrillers to work for me, they usually need to feature a unique, often heavily stylized, kind of atmosphere. When I saw where the cinematography was headed in Our Kind of Traitor, with lots of handheld work and dreamy soft-focus scenes with slightly desaturated colours, I was initially quite disappointed and my expectations dropped a notch. But the cinematography changed constantly and often provided rich colours and sharp, if gritty, photography. By the end, I was convinced that the cinematography provided exactly the right kind of atmosphere for this story and was, in fact, a primary highlight of the film.
Our Kind of Traitor stars Ewan McGregor as Perry, a university professor vacationing in Marrakesh with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris). When, during a romantic evening meal, Gail is called away on business, Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), an accountant for the Russian mafia, invites Perry to join his table and then a party. Perry is somewhat reluctant to leap into a friendship with Dima, but does so anyway and is rewarded by having Dima share his work woes with him and being asked by Dima to help him get out of the mafia before he and his family are killed the way his predecessor and his family were killed.
The first requested favour seems minor and safe enough, so Perry plays along. But once Hector (Damien Lewis) from MI6 gets involved, things start to get scary and soon Perry and Gail are in way over their heads, as can happen in a le Carré thriller.
While McGregor and Harris provide the perfect level of innocence for their roles, and while their acting was solid throughout, something was missing in terms of eliciting the kind of empathetic engagement I most enjoy. Skarsgård, on the other hand, was not only perfectly cast but delivered a great performance. Lewis was also well-cast and solid enough.
The score was traditional and provided the right flavour for an old-fashioned spy thriller. The only real negative of Our Kind of Traitor was, surprisingly enough, the story itself. I say surprising because le Carré is one of the best spy novelists out there. Unfortunately, this is not one of his stronger novels and, ultimately, the story doesn’t have enough depth or originality to satisfy. Nevertheless, the film’s other strengths made up for some of that and I found Our Kind of Traitor to be solid entertainment for a lover of this genre. ***+ My mug is up.