John le Carré’s novels have undergone some attention-grabbing adaptations in recent years, starting with ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ in 2011 and continuing recently with ‘The Night Manager’ on TV. The latest is ‘Our Kind of Traitor’, based on le Carré’s 2010 spy story. Like ‘The Night Manager’, it’s a globetrotting story of ordinary people dragged into a high-stakes conspiracy that reveals our world to be run by snakes.
Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris play Perry and Gail, two pretty average Londoners on holiday in Marrakesh. One night in the hotel bar, Perry befriends Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a boisterous Russian mafioso who begs him to take information back to the UK and hand it over to British intelligence. Dima’s USB drive contains details of British politicians helping Russian oligarchs launder money through London. In return for the scoop he wants to defect to Britain. Back home, principled but bruised MI6 agent Hector (Damian Lewis) is sympathetic to Dima’s cause, but he struggles to get support for a mission from higher up.
The idea of a wimpy British holidaymaker being drawn into a dangerous plot that hops from Paris to the Alps might have you rolling your eyes. However, once you get past some bumps in the road of believability, ‘Our Kind of Traitor’ turns into a brisk, energetic drama, with Anthony Dod Mantle’s photography adding interesting layers to a fairly straightforward plot. In the hands of director Susanna White, this is a less opaque film than some recent le Carré adaptations (especially 2014’s murky ‘A Most Wanted Man’). But it still allows for some rich characterisation, especially from Skarsgård as the larger-than-life Russian and Lewis as the British spook trying to put on a brave face. Most pointedly, it leaves a lingering, inescapable stench of corruption.