Apologies for the unexpected hiatus of Taking The Short View over the last month and a half. The simple truth is there’s been a strange dearth of things of late that have inspired me to write reviews, despite the start of a brand new season of television shows.
But let’s rectify the situation and get things back on track with a review of a film released earlier this year and now available on DVD. It’s an adaptation of a John Le Carré novel, following in the footsteps of other recent films based on the authors work such as 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and 2014’s A Most Wanted Man, not to mention the phenomenally successful television mini-series of The Night Manager.
Our Kind Of Traitor starts off with husband and wife Perry and Gail McKendrick (Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris) taking a holiday in Marrakech seeking to repair their troubled marriage. Instead they get caught in the orbit of the flamboyant Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) who is a money man for the Russian Mafia who now fears for his life and that of his family. He asks Perry to take a memory stick back to London to hand over to British intelligence represented by Hector (Damian Lewis) and Luke (Khalid Abdalla), but it doesn’t stop there and the McKendricks find themselves getting sucked deeper and deeper into a deadly game of undercover work.
The first half of the film works well, as Perry and Gail take anxious steps into a world they knew nothing about. There’s genuine tension built up of nothing more substantial than glances in rear view mirrors and you really do feel worried that it’s all going to explode in their faces at any minute. And then the film makes a sudden jump, shedding its credibility as the McKendricks cross over from being accidental participants to fully engaged members of a rogue MI6 operation. There’s a half-decent climax at the end of Act 2 after which the film slumps into inactivity, has a soapbox moment expounding its political and moral stance on the issue of money laundering and political corruption, and then it struggles to crank itself up again for what should be a rousing finale but which is instead conducted at an isolating distance with much of it happening off-screen just when it needs to really get in the audience’s face. Much of this is probably down to the running time: at 103 minutes, the film just doesn’t have time to properly evolve its scenarios and characters at the same sort of natural pace that Le Carré is able to do in his novels, or The Night Manager enjoyed as a six-hour television series.
It’s by no means a bad film and is a perfectly solid watch, with a strong cast all giving unimpeachable performances (although it might have been better to see the excellent Harris as the main character rather than the slightly generic McGregor for once) and a strong visual style courtesy of director Susanna White and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle with the film shot in some terrific locations including Finland, London, Paris, Bern and the French Alps. Ultimately however the film just doesn’t manage to spark into life after that claustrophobic first half, and loses its pace and tension just when it needs them to deliver the most.
Rating: ★ ★ ★
Our Kind of Traitor is available in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray. Extras include a making of featurette, cast and crew interviews, and deleted scenes.