Our Kind of Traitor (2016)
Directed by Susanna White
A fitting “Jeopardy” category might be “John Le Carré Stories that Have NOT Been Adapted to Television or Film.” The 84-year-old master of espionage literature now has his name on 15 movies or mini-series, and has even executive produced some of the newer adaptations, including the latest, “Our Kind of Traitor.” It can’t be too difficult to make an effective thriller when you have some of the world’s best material to work with. See the extraordinary cat-and-mouse game between Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie in the AMC mini-series “The Night Manager” for a great example. It’s stupendous work. “Our Kind of Traitor” is right up there with the best.
Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris) are a posh London couple on a getaway in Morocco, trying to make time in their busy lives to focus on their marriage. But a chance encounter with Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) will change all that. Dima controls finances for key players in the Russian mafia, but won’t for much longer. He fears for his life and the lives of his family when he’s no longer of use to the higher ups. They already follow him. They track his calls. So Dima takes a wild chance and recruits Perry to deliver a hard drive to London police when he returns home from holiday. It gives the police enough to know Dima will be a huge help when it comes time to prosecute these career criminals. But the authorities need Perry and Gail to help them finish the job and get Dima and his family to safety in England. As time runs out and Dima begins transitioning out of his mob job, Perry and Gail will try to help police smuggle him and his family to safety before their plans are revealed to Dima’s nasty bosses.
Like most of Le Carré’s work, “Our Kind of Traitor” is fueled by intelligent writing, not bloody standoffs. The suspense that isn’t conveyed by the tight dialogue is emoted through tiny changes in facial expressions. When your poker face is your only weapon, your life depends on your ability to remain calm. The best of the bunch is Naomie Harris, former Bond Girl, who fills her character Gail with a sense of purpose and a little bit of noticeable dread. But the rest of the tip-top cast is as effective as they can be.
If “Our Kind of Traitor” is formulaic, it’s because the Le Carré formula works. “Everyman gets wrapped up in spy business” is a trove of possibilities that hasn’t yet overstayed its welcome. “Our Kind of Traitor” is a rescue operation story of the smartest sort, a wonderful entry into that impressive Le Carré film catalogue that seems to grow a little every year. I’m not mad.