Monday 6 June 2016

Film: 'Our Kind of Traitor'

Patchily effective espionage thriller, though also saggy at times.
Whenever there's a film based on a John le Carre work I brace myself expecting there to be significant brain work required to follow a twisty plot. This one transpires to be reasonably straight forward.

Ewan McGregor is a London University lecturer on holiday in Morocco with his barrister wife (Naomie Harris), their marriage clearly having seen better days. In a restaurant one evening she returns alone to their hotel while he gets pulled into a conversation with brash, hail-and-hearty heavyweight, Stellan Skarsgard, who's part of a rowdy Russian party, he insisting that the quiet new acquaintance comes along to a party. Once there, and in seclusion, Skarsgard reveals the fact that he's part of a Russian mafia and is desperate to leave them and have him, his family - wife and five children - flee to the west. To show his sincerity, he gives the reluctant McGregor a memory stick which he asks to be handed to MI5 back in England, while informing him that if he's found out it means a certain death sentence for him and all his family. Back in London, now with Secret Service boss Damian Lewis in charge, the memory stick reveals names of the mafia. But more information, including bank details, are required before the request for asylum can be taken seriously. There follows a cat-and-mouse game involving visits to France and Switzerland of McGregor and his grumpy wife, the latter resenting having been brought into an affair which had nothing to do with them. At each pre-planned rendezvous Skarsgard's moves are watched by increasingly suspicious Russian minders, he and McGregor having to resort to various methods of deception to exchange information and for Skarsgard to obtain what is necessary to secure his escape.  And it should be of no surprise to anyone if I say that double-crossing in high places of the British establishment is also involved.

There are moments of high tension, more frequent in the film's first half (complete with a chugging background score), but there are longuers too. Naomie Harris has little to do other than act disgruntled at being dragged along for this intrigue. Even McGregor's role is little more than that of a one-note,n helpless innocent, while Damian Lewis acts his laid-back authority figure. I thought the film belonged to larger-than-life Skarsgard, a powder keg of a figure who is easily given to explosions, yet remains vulnerable under the skin.

While director Susanna White (a lot of TV work, plus the 2010 'Nanny McPhee' film) doesn't exactly set the world alight with this one, stronger material with more unexpected twists might have helped.  However, I do have to own that there were definitely a few moments early-ish on where I was quite gripped........................6.5.

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