The traitor of the title may be a financial oligarch looking to defect from the Russian Mafia, but it’s likely to be the audience who will ultimately feel betrayed by this lumbering adaptation of le Carré’s highly lauded 2010 novel. While Tomas Alfredson’s take on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Anton Corbijn’s taut translation of A Most Wanted Man both offered us the silky smooth elegance of a perfectly made vodka Martini, this has more in common with a bottle of basic supermarket spirit; harsh on the palette, and likely to leave your head spinning in the most unpleasant way.
It’s directed by Susanna White, whose actions on the small screen – Bleak House and Generation Kill – far outweigh her cinematic accomplishments – to date, the only other entry in her filmography is 2010’s Nanny McPhee sequel. And indeed, given the recent critical and commercial success of The Night Manager on British TV, one can’t help but feel that Our Kind Of Traitor may have also benefitted from a televisual serialisation.
We start strong though, with a moody prologue that sees Grigoriy Dobrygin’s volatile mob boss – nicknamed “the Prince” – having a member of his inner circle assassinated as part of a plan that will eventually allow him to launder billions of dollars through London’s financial sector. Soon, however, we’ve left the steely tones of Mother Russia for the soft, warming hues of Morocco. There we meet Perry and his wife Gail (Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris), a couple whose sole defining trait appears to be that they have accents that mirror their excessively arrogant attitude.Perry and Gail are on holiday to try and fix their troubled marriage (to the credit of McGregor and Harris, their lack of chemistry makes this one of the only elements of the story we are truly able to invest in), and of course it’s common knowledge that the best way to do so is become friends with a boisterous Russian billionaire. And so, enter Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), the aforementioned oligarch, who’s looking to offer the British government – represented here by Damien Lewis – information in exchange for protection from the increasingly unpredictable “Prince”, and has decided that befriending a random holidaymaker and his wife is the best way to facilitate such an arrangement.
After the action briefly alights in Paris, White succeeds in executing a couple of edgy sequences, but throughout she struggles to maintain a grip on the narrative’s various sprawling components, which makes for dizzyingly disjointed and ultimately unengaging viewing – despite the best efforts of Lewis and Skarsgård, who chew the scenery with gusto whenever they’re on screen. The pacing of Hossein Amini’s script, meanwhile, is sluggish, crawling towards its conclusion without ever managing to draw any real tension from the story.
And, as is apparently compulsory with every globetrotting thriller in contemporary cinema, the film sets its sights on the Bond and Bourne franchises for stylistic pointers; aiming for the glamour of the former and the grit of the latter. But here also, it misses the mark quite considerably.