When it comes to espionage, be it literary or cinematic, one name jumps to the forefront. John le Carre. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", "A Most Wanted Man", "The Russia House", "The Constant Gardener" and currently airing on cable on AMC, "The Night Manager" with Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, should immediately spring to mind. And now OUR KIND OF TRAITOR, a subtler yet equally fraught with tension, but a more emotional and contemporary story based on Le Carre's 2010 best-seller is added to the big screen cadre thanks to director Susanna White and screenwriter Hossein Amini.

A geopolitical thriller that takes us from Russia (suitably lensed in a stand-in Finland) to Paris, London, the French Alps, Switzerland and Marrakesh, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR finds a Russian money launderer seeking to defect to the UK after a friend and ally has been killed by the new leadership of the "crime syndicate" whose money he launders. Aiding in his quest is an unassuming college professor.

Dima is the "best" money launderer in all of Russia. But he knows that with a change in leadership within the Russian mafia and recent cold-blooded killings of Dima's friends and colleagues, he needs to take his own ill-gotten gains and leave the country as soon as possible with his most precious commodity - his family. Taking us into the upper echelons of the organization, Dima introduces us to "The Prince" whose MO is to gift those he views as enemies with a pearl-handled pistol which he then retrieves later after these targets are killed. And Dima is on point as the next recipient of the pistol. Wanting to defect to Britain, Dima also knows the only way to get out of Russia and into the UK is with the help of MI6. But to get their help, he has to give them something that will make them see the value in helping him.

Perry Makepeace is a run of the mill college professor. Quiet and unassuming, he is vacationing in Marrakesh with his successful barrister girlfriend Gail, trying to put the spark back in their relationship. (And it's not going so well.) Out to dinner, the couple meet Dima, himself out partying, living and loving life, in the same restaurant as our strained couple. While Gail's attitude and cold-shoulder towards Perry grows and she leaves and returns to the hotel, Perry finds himself making friends with Dima and moving on to a party elsewhere. Despite the cultural and economic differences, the two strike up a friendship.

As things heat up with some new laundering about to take place, Dima knows he needs to make some sort of quick move to insure his family's safety and asks Perry for help. As Perry readies to leave for home, Dima gives him a flash drive and asks him to turn it over to customs and MI6 on his arrival in the UK. With shades of Hitchcock akin to "The Man Who Knew Too Much", Perry finds himself swept up into more intrigue than he ever thought possible when he is held and questioned by MI6 agent Hector Meredith. As Hector pushes Perry for more information than Perry is unable to provide, being an attorney and getting more and more impatient during Perry's meeting, Gail inserts herself into the situation, furious that Perry agreed to help Dima and transport the USB drive.

As it turns out, Dima's choice of the UK for defection was very deliberate given that much of the money he has been laundering has found its way into the pockets of prominent Brits, including Hector's former boss. While Hector is chomping at the bit with this information and wants to move full speed ahead with an investigation, he can't due to lack of interest by his superiors, lack of concrete evidence (like account numbers) and lack of personnel. Playing to Perry's sense of ethics, responsibility and appreciation for Dima's love of family (whom he and Gail had met and bonded with), Hector somehow convinces Perry to help him bring Dima in. And for whatever reason, something clicks within Gail to also help.

With the clock ticking, Hector and his right-hand man Luke, along with Perry and Gail, embark on the trickiest of negotiations and rescues with the lives of all at risk.

As Dima, Stellan Skarsgard commands the screen. You believe every bit of Dima's boasting about his money laundering talents, but even moreso, Skarsgard brings emotional depth as a father, husband and friend to the table that elevates Amini's already polished script to new heights. So engaging, so emotionally grounded, one can't help but like Dima and it doesn't take much before you, as an audience member, are rooting for him along with Perry. And surprisingly, we get to see a physicality within Skarsgard's the performance that is outside the norm of his roles.

Going toe-to-toe with Skarsgard is Ewan McGregor. As the emotional and physical antithesis of Skarsgard's Dima, McGregor transforms on both counts as Perry. The unassuming mousiness disappears as Perry becomes decisive, filled with conviction, reaching deep into his emotional core. As comes as no surprise, McGregor also ups the ante when Perry steps into some key physical moments.

As director Susanna White notes, "At the start of the movie, Ewan's character Perry is someone who is really a bit of a lost soul. He's in a bit of a dead end job, his wife's more successful than he is, and he's feeling very unsure of himself. And he falls under the spell of Stellan - as we all do. . . He goes on an incredible journey of growing through this relationship with someone who would normally be the villain of the piece."

And then there's Damian Lewis. Simply brilliant as MI6 agent Hector, Lewis plays the role with a double-edged sword, bringing such a level of ambiguity that one is always questioning his trustworthiness. Calling herself lucky to get Lewis for the role of Hector, White sees him as "[T]he voice of John Le Carre. He's the voice of a kind of morality about what's going on in the British establishment. . . All the work he does he just brings real layers. . .. There's a loneliness and cynicism about Damian's character which is really interesting."

Naomie Harris does a more than serviceable job as Gail but never quite garners our attention the way Skarsgard and Lewis, and even McGregor, do.

Adapted from Le Carre's novel by Hossein Amini, the script is emotionally layered and more calculated than what we typically expect in a John le Carre film. Setting OUR KIND OF TRAITOR apart from other Le Carre stories, this one has a very contemporary and timeless feel which is translated through visuals to being grounded in the world of today as the audience is immersed in the story and the visuals. The story resonates on a more personal level, with two marriages/relationships at opposite ends of the spectrum, driving the characters towards a shared middle ground. But OUR KIND OF TRAITOR isn't all about emotion, there are plenty of action sequences and intrigue to go around including a knife fight shot in the Dorchester Hotel in London and another fight up in the French Alps.

Technically, White could do no better than with Danny Boyle's oft-right hand, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. Telling its own story, the visual grammar excels as Mantle uses dutched lenses and framing, supported by unique camera placement a la "fly on the wall" spying, culminating in lush aerial photography, most notably in a big helicopter set piece in the French Alps. Visual hues steep us in the "spy genre". The naivete of Perry and Gail plays well for Mantle's lensing as he balances the intrigue and tension with the seductive nature of Dima's personality and the adventure as a whole.

Shooting in five countries, kudos to White for fighting for location shoots. "We started in deep snow in Finland [which substituted for Russia], then we shot in England for awhile, then we got on the EuroStar train from London to Paris and we shot a scene physically on the train as we traveled; the crew's bags were in one carriage and we were in the next carriage shooting a scene between Ewan and Naomi [Harris]. Then we shot in Paris and we got on another train to Switzerland where we shot a scene as we traveled. And then we went to the French Alps and then from there we flew to Morocco to Marrakesh where we shot right in the heart of very busy Marrakesh as night." The result is palpable immersion and excitement of the chase.

You can never go wrong with John Le Carre on the page or on the big or small screen. OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is our kind of thriller.

Directed by Susanna White

Written by Hossein Amini based on the novel by John le Carre

Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Ewan McGregor, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris


Reader Comments


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019

Rendered 06/05/2020 08:52