Based on a novel by John le Carré and directed by Susanna White (Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang), Our Kind of Traitor is an underwhelming thriller beset by problems.
Ewan McGregor plays Perry Makepiece (read: make peace), an indistinctly hapless professor from a London university, who, along with Gail (Naomie Harris), heads on a trip to Morocco and becomes embroiled with a well-meaning money launderer named Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who is looking to protect his family while he prepares to sever ties with the Russian mafia. As Perry and Gail prepare to return to England, Dima entrusts Perry with a memory stick of information, instructing him to turn it over to British Intelligence so that he might negotiate for the safe emigration of he and his family in exchange for further data. As Dima will only deal directly with Perry, the professor and his wife are obliged to return to Europe, where they accompany the launderer and his family as they make their escape through Switzerland.
While generally entertaining, the movie never extends beyond its surface value. Of course, this is not always a problem in action and espionage movies. Jack Ryan and Jason Bourne may be cardboard, but they get by because they lack pretence. The seriousness of a Patriot Games or a Bourne Identity never extends far beyond the conceit of diverting popcorn fodder. On the other hand, Our Kind of Traitor harbours a desire to solicit serious rumination on the world, on politics, the human condition. It takes itself in earnest, and it fails because the characters are two dimensional archetypes; because the entire plot is a predictable cliché, meaning it is difficult to invest in the film, either emotionally, or even through vicarious action; and because it lacks tangible excitement.
What is worse is that White employs a lot of arbitrary film effects, such as blurring and stained glass. Rather than contribute to the sustained illusion of reality, they only draw attention to the film as an artificial creation, tinkered with unnecessarily in post. If she were aiming for realism –and that is the sense you get throughout- this was a really bad idea.
There are absolutely no twists and turns in the plot. It merely plods along, heading where you expect it to go, and then it’s over.
Of the cast, McGregor is the most perfunctory, existing to react and not much more. An added back story about him cheating on his wife, if intended to add depth to the character, is mostly a waste, because their issues seem to have resolved or subsided after about thirty minutes, and as a plot point it serves no real function except as a reason for their Moroccan vacation in the first place. In fact, there could be a thousand better reasons why they were vacationing in Morocco.
Harris does fair a bit better, if only because she is not as naturally blank as McGregor is, and she manages to more convincingly portray a sense of compassion and empathy.
Skarsgård, however, is the best thing about the film. Unlike McGregor, he puts genuine enthusiasm into his performance, and he turns his potty-mouthed money launderer into a genuinely likeable, funny guy by dint of his sheer animation. If Skarsgård had played all the parts in the film, it may have turned out far better than it did.
A very middling film, Our Kind of Traitor is not exactly awful, but it is the definition of average, which may or may not be worse.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10