“Our Kind of Traitor” is the perfect anti-summer summer movie: it’s a thoughtful, talky, decidedly adult spy thriller that’s elevated by exceptional performances from top-notch acting talent and a clever, sharp script. You aren’t going to find lots of shootouts or pointless action scenes here, it’s the situations that will keep your mind actively guessing from start to finish. Director Susanna White instead chooses to focus on brains not brawn, and the result is an engrossing dramatic film with much greater depth than I expected.
Perry (Ewan McGregor) is a university professor who is on a getaway in Morocco with his barrister wife Gail (Naomie Harris). While sitting alone in the hotel bar, he strikes up a conversation with Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who turns out to be a Russian mobster whose family is on the fast track to execution by even badder bad guys. Dima requests that Perry hand deliver a flash drive with secret information to the British government upon returning to the U.K. and sensing the imminent danger to the man’s family, Perry obliges. Soon after, Perry is approached by MI6 agent Hector (a standout performance from Damian Lewis) and becomes an integral component of an involuntary spy game.
All of the leads play perfectly off each other, each bringing a contrasting, distinctive style of character to the screen. McGregor is perfectly clueless as a professor of poetry, Lewis is proper and resourceful as a by-the-books Englishman agent dealing with government red tape, and Skarsgård is spot-on as a genial, boisterous thug. Each of these men easily deserve major award nominations for their performances.
This is a well made tale of espionage and is far better than the last John le Carré adaptation (2011’s dreadfully convoluted “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“). “Our Kind of Traitor” is the perfect choice for adults who are just sick and tired of all the noise that’s currently clogging theaters. This isn’t your typical mindless summer fare, and I encourage all grown ups to seek it out.
If you like intelligent, twisty spy thrillers, “Our Kind of Traitor” is for you.
Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris play Perry and Gail, a couple from the United Kingdom vacationing in Marrakech to try to repair their broken marriage. While out for dinner, Perry meets Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a member of the Russian mafia who lives the high life. After getting to know the man, Dima entrusts Perry with secret information and asks Perry to give it to MI6. He does, and Perry and Gail quickly find themselves in the middle of a top secret operation that takes them to Paris, Bern, and the French Alps.
McGregor convincingly plays the quiet-but-decent college professor Perry, who is all too trusting and more than willing to help his new friend in any way he can, and Harris works well as Gail, his barrister wife who would and should be the voice of reason — until she too falls for Dima and his family. Skarsgård is a little out of his comfort zone, speaking with a Russian accent and long hair that would look completely ridiculous on anyone else. Damian Lewis does an excellent job as the MI6 agent Hector with questionable allegiance and motivation. As the spy game plays out, you find yourself guessing as to what might happen next, and who could be double-crossing whom.
Unlike some movies in this genre (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” comes to mind), “Our Kind of Traitor” succeeds because the plot isn’t too convoluted. It’s easy to figure out both who the characters are and what the conflict is about. There is no nonlinear narrative or jumping back and forth either in time or in situations; the movie coheres well. Throwing Gail and Perry directly into the thick of the espionage functions to hold interest, and the Walter Mitty-esque everyman angle makes it easy to relate to and sympathize with the couple.
Literary-minded folks will love this one, as it feels like a good, satisfying summer read: nothing feels forced, illogical or ridiculous and the ending is satisfying without being false.