Movie review: Our Kind of Traitor

By Peter Calder

Ewen McGregor stars in the film Our Kind of Traitor, based on the John Le Carre novel.
Ewen McGregor stars in the film Our Kind of Traitor, based on the John Le Carre novel.

The 12th and latest film to be based on a novel by the austere doyen of espionage fiction, John le Carre, may be the least satisfying ever.

It certainly suffers by comparison with the previous three - The Constant Gardener, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Most Wanted Man, all of which, perhaps not incidentally, had non-English directors.

White, who directs here, from a banal script by Hossein Amini, has only one feature, a Nanny McPhee sequel, to her credit and her touch is far from assured, though it bears saying that the 2010 source novel is one of the author's less consequential.

Stellan Skarsgard and Ewen McGregor star in the film Our Kind of Traitor, based on the John Le Carre novel.
Stellan Skarsgard and Ewen McGregor star in the film Our Kind of Traitor, based on the John Le Carre novel.

Undaunted by the end of the Cold War, le Carre has found rich material in such diverse places as corporate skulduggery in Africa and the Bush-era practice of rendition. But his villains here are the gangster capitalists of post-Soviet Russia.

His improbable heroes are Perry Makepeace (McGregor), an academic, and his barrister wife Gail Perkins (Harris, the Moneypenny to Daniel Craig's James Bond). On holiday at a tennis resort in Antigua, they meet a loud Russian giant called Dima (Skarsgard), who invites Perry to a late-night party where naked women ride white horses, cocaine is served by the cupful and tattooed skinhead giants use knives as instruments of seduction.

It is no surprise to learn that Dima is up to his elbows in organised crime. Less expected is that he wants out: his employers have decided that his time as a money-launderer is up and he's a dead man walking. He wants to Perry to broker him a deal with British intelligence.

The principal implausibility of the idea that a powerful gangster would entrust his life to a milquetoast professor of poetics is only the first of many. Certainly Makepeace's proficiency at unarmed combat and small-arms shooting is not, to my knowledge, common among lit-crit specialists.

The script tinkers inexplicably with details (changing the spelling of Perry's surname from Makepiece, even though no one will notice, and his academic speciality, which was Orwell in the novel) but doesn't explain the couple's extended, impromptu absences from important jobs or how Dima could expect to be safe in the city where Alexander Litvinenko died.

Skarsgard, playing big for once, has fun; Lewis, as a maverick Whitehall mandarin is a pleasure to watch and there's a delicious payoff at the end, but the film as a whole is derivative, flabby and flat.

• This is my last film review for the Herald. Thanks for reading for the past 30 years.

Our Kind of Traitor

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis, Naomie Harris, Jeremy Northam
Director: Susanna White
Running Time: 107 mins
Rating: tbc
Verdict: Derivative and sluggish

- TimeOut

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