As ably demonstrated by the recent BBC adaptation of “The Night Manager”, John le Carré’s particular brand of complex intrigue and slow burning drama may be best suited to the long-form storytelling afforded by television rather than the need to wrap everything up in under three (and often preferably) two hours demanded by moviegoers. The great and patient chess game of international espionage and realpolitik sometimes doesn’t suit cinemas preferred fast paced spy tropes.
“Our Kind Of Traitor”, thankfully, is a relatively pacey affair. One of le Carré’s less complex plots, it makes for a surprisingly straightforward yarn as university lecturer Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) is approached by gregarious Russian oligarch Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) while on holiday with his wife in Marrakech. Dima has a startling favour to ask: he wants Perry to act as a go between to arrange his defection from the Russian Mafia. Trapped between opposing powerful interests, Perry may be the only one Dima can truly trust.
The straightforwardness of the story isn’t helped by the lack of depth to many of the characters. None of the villains ever seem much more than vanilla cyphers; dull and anodyne placeholders for a threat which is often described but rarely shown. Outside the central quartet of Perry, his wife Gail (Naomie Harris), British Intelligence agent Hector (Damian Lewis, all George Smiley spectacles and public school accent) and Skarsgård’s ebullient and rambunctious Dima. The film trades heavily on Skarsgård’s energy and sags noticeably whenever he’s not on screen.
Thankfully, Director Susanna White has an ace up her sleeve, enlivening proceedings with a beautifully intricate aesthetic, using occluded camera angles and a playful approach to focus to create bejewelled, intimate visuals which compensate for the general lethargy of the plot.
Entertaining if not gripping, this is a relatively predictable spy yarn; pretty to look at and enjoyable enough thanks to the solid cast and a standout performance by Skarsgård.