When Perry and his girlfriend, Gail, cross paths with the charismatic Dima on their Moroccan holiday, the forceful Russian is quick to challenge Perry to a friendly game of tennis. But this innocuous contest is not all it seems - Dima is a long-time servant of the Russian mafia, whose new boss, 'The Prince', wants him and his family dead. His only hope is to ask the unsuspecting Perry to broker him sanctuary with the British intelligence services, in return for exposing a vein of corruption that runs right to the heart of the City of London. Soon they find themselves on a tortuous journey through Paris to a safe house in the Swiss Alps and, with the might of the Russian mafia closing in, begin to realise this particular match has the highest stakes of all. Written by
"Our Kind of Traitor" is a satisfying, but unremarkable thriller.
John le Carré does not exist. "John the Square" (as understood in
French) is the pen name of British author David Cornwell. For those who
don't know who he is, Cornwell is a former member of Great Britain's
Security Service and, later, his country's Secret Intelligence Service
(perhaps better known as MI5 and MI6, respectively). He left the spy
game in 1964 to pursue his burgeoning career as a writer of espionage
novels. Now, if none of this sounds familiar, maybe these titles will:
"The Tailor of Panama", "The Constant Gardener", "Tinker Tailor Soldier
Spy", "A Most Wanted Man". These are his novels which made it to the
big screen just since the beginning of this century and have attracted
the participation of actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Pierce
Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz (who won an
Oscar for her efforts). Writing as le Carré, one of Cornwell's more
recent novels to become a feature film is "Our Kind of Traitor" (R,
1:48), a story which continues the author's tradition of setting his
roller-coaster-like plots against a backdrop of big ideas, but this one
is set in a greater variety of international locations than usual and
has narrative that's been described as somewhat Hitchcockian.
Peregrine "Perry" Makepiece (Ewan McGregor) is a college professor
whose marriage to successful attorney (barrister, to be specific), Gail
Perkins (Naomie Harris) is going through a rough patch. He had recently
slept with one of his students and he feels that his professional
accomplishments are inferior to those of his wife. The couple takes a
short vacation to Marrakesh, Morocco in an effort to put a spark back
into their marriage. Instead, Perry ends up hanging out with a
larger-than-life Russian man named Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) whom he
meets in a local bar. In the space of just a couple days, Perry accepts
Dima's generous but forceful invitations to drink together, to play
tennis and to attend a couple parties. Gail joins Perry at the second
party, but is unhappy about how it cuts into their alone time, and when
Perry disappears for a while, Gail wonders what he's up to. Fortunately
(and unfortunately) Perry is just talking privately with Dima, who
reveals himself to be more than just a friendly Russian businessman.
Dima tells Perry that he launders money for the Russian mob and is
concerned that he is about to be asked to "resign" (which would mean
that Dima's family would end up "resigning" with him). Before any of
that can happen, Dima wants to defect to the UK. He asks Perry to
deliver to MI6 a memory stick with the names of British officials being
bribed by the Russians to grease the skids for a major banking deal.
Dima hopes this information will be enough for MI6 to grant asylum to
Dima and his family in exchange for further intel. Dima says that Perry
is the only one he can trust, and Perry is just kind and honorable
enough to want to help save Dima and his family. Perry is also pretty
naïve, thinking that he can "just" give the files to MI6 and be done.
Perry soon finds out differently, as does Gail who also gets roped in.
An MI6 agent known as Hector (Damian Lewis) is keen to follow up on
this lead, but it won't be easy. Hector's boss doesn't think there's
enough to go on and thinks that Hector is motivated by revenge against
a former supervisor (Jeremy Northam) who may be involved in the bribery
scandal. So, Hector lies to his crew (and everyone else) about having
permission to proceed and goes forward with his unauthorized operation
which involves civilians, no less. Hector establishes contact with
Dima, but Dima refuses to deal with anyone but Perry. Thus, Perry and
Gail head to Paris where they "accidentally" run into Dima, who is on
his way to Switzerland to sign over to his new bosses the accounts that
he manages. Then, as things get more dangerous, Perry and Gail get
involved more and more deeply.
"Our Kind of Traitor" is a satisfying, but unremarkable thriller. Some
of the plot points seem highly implausible and others feel
underwritten. The story is well-constructed, but the acting (except for
Skarsgård's) is listless and the entire film suffers from a lack of
tension. Cornwell / le Carré novels often suffer somewhat in the
process of adapting them to the big screen, but this one is still worth
a look. "B"
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