An Englishman Abroad: Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor
Directed by Susanna White
Opens July 1

Arriving amid roiling speculation about what a post-Brexit world would look like, the contemporary espionage thriller Our Kind of Traitor, with its breezy Continent-hopping and its atmosphere of Cold War hangover, all of a sudden already feels like something of a comfort-food period movie. In the film, an adaptation of a 2010 novel by John le Carré, an “ordinary” English couple—poetics lecturer Perry (Ewan McGregor) and high-powered barrister Gail (Naomie Harris)—find themselves wrapped up in a treacherous international intrigue: During a failed romantic holiday in Marrakech, Gail disappears to work and Perry ends up befriending a boorish Russian named Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who improbably entrusts the teacher with delivering a thumb drive to the MI6. Dima, it turns out, is the Russian mob’s number-one money launderer; sensing his days are numbered under new Vory leadership, he wants to exchange information on the dirty money filtering into London for asylum for him and his family.

For a while, the movie, capably directed by TV veteran Susanna White (whose only other big-screen credit is, strangely enough, the 2010 family film Nanny McPhee), encourages the viewer to be wary of Dima’s intentions—a shiftiness that Skarsgård relishes playing up in his enjoyably boisterous (if imperfectly accented) performance. It gradually turns out, though, that everyone in Traitor is more or less whom they initially appear to be. McGregor might essentially be reprising his Ghost Writer role as a blandly palatable protagonist who’s book smart yet altogether too credulous (because why else would a mere civilian bystander choose to get more and more involved with such an affair?), but this time around he’s not getting played for a fool after all. And as the intel agent who takes charge of the Dima case, Damian Lewis (who appears a little too mannered, especially opposite the low-key McGregor) is also quite evidently fighting the good fight himself, doing his best to expose corrupt MPs and get the informant out of harm’s way, all despite the continued resistance of his MI6 higher-ups. It’s the institutions—not the front-and-center individuals—that wind up deserving the most suspicion here.

Early on, screenwriter Hossein Amini (who recently made his directorial debut with the Hitchcockian Two Faces of January) makes a point of establishing Gail as the central couple’s primary breadwinner, so it’s especially disappointing that the film’s most prominent female character is given little to do but stand by her man once the spy games get underway. But perhaps the biggest problem with Traitor is that it never proves particularly gripping, even as Dima, his family, and the enabling Brits get whisked away to—and effectively stranded at—a safe house in the French Alps for the bulk of the film’s final third. A stronger sense of mystery might have served the film well as a thriller—though as is, it’s diverting enough as a piece of escapism. The majority of viewers will undoubtedly opt to remain in the theater for its duration.

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