OUR KIND OF TRAITOR (2016) is my kind of movie.
This thriller based on the John le Carre novel of the same name is well-acted, written, and directed and provides edge-of-your-seat excitement from beginning to end. It’s one of the best films to come out this summer.
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR opens in Moscow with the chilling assassination of a Russian mobster and his family. We then meet a young British college professor named Perry (Ewan McGregor) on holiday with his attorney wife Gail (Naomie Harris). All is not well with them, as they took this holiday to help their marriage, which suffered a blow when Perry slept with one of his students. In a restaurant, Gail receives a work-related call and she leaves Perry to dine alone.
At a neighboring table a boisterous group drinks and parties hearty. One of these partiers, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) invites Perry to join their table since he’s dining alone, and Perry reluctantly agrees. Dima then invites Perry to come with him to another party, and he gives it the hard sell, to which Perry- with nothing better to do since his wife is working- agrees.
Suddenly, Dima is confiding lots of confidential information to Perry, and the next thing Perry knows, the man is handing him a flash drive which he wants Perry to hand over to the British Secret Service. It turns out that Dima is a member of the Russian Mafia who now fears for his life and his family’s lives and wants to defect. Perry agrees.
Back in London, Perry turns over the flash drive, which captures the attention of a British intelligence officer named Hector (Damian Lewis). The flash drive contains the names of prominent British citizens who are in cahoots with the Russian mob, and Hector has his own personal reasons for wanting to retrieve this information and more of what Dima says he has to offer.
Dima agrees to meet with Hector, but only if Perry is in on the deal. At first, Perry wants no part of further meetings, but eventually he is covinced by Hector to go, and so he and wife Gail make the trip.
Soon, Perry and Gail find themselves embroiled in a very dangerous situation, caught in between the merciless Russian mob and the calculating secretive MI6, and rather than wanting out, they want in, as they grow closer to and fonder of Dima and his family.
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is not receiving much hype, and so I went in to this one not expecting much, but it’s a heck of a thriller, and is one of my favorite movies of the summer so far.
Director Susanna White has made an effective thriller that caught my attention from the very first sequence, the jarring assassination scene of the Russian mobster and his wife and daughter. From that moment on, the film had me, and it never let up. The direction remained stylish throughout. While the action scenes are few and far between, there are scenes of suspense throughout.
When Perry and Gail are whisked away from a party by a key member of the Russian mob and taken back to a ghetto apartment, the tension is paramount. Likewise, the sequence when MI6 and Perry and Gail try to rescue Dima’s family is taut and thrilling. This is the kind of movie John Frankenheimer would have directed in his heyday. Director White does an excellent job.
The photography is also excellent as there are plenty of picturesque location shots, from Moscow, to London, to Paris, to the French Alps. There’s a nice almost Bond-like international feel to this one.
The screenplay by Hossein Amini based on le Carre’s novel is a good one. There’s plenty of lively dialogue, the characters are fleshed out, and the narrative flows nicely from start to finish. Amini wrote the screenplay to DRIVE (2011), a film by director Nicolas Winding Refn [THE NEON DEMON (2016)] and starring Ryan Gosling, that I loved. He also wrote the screenplay to SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), a film that I did not like so much. I think his screenplay here is even better than the one he wrote for DRIVE.
I loved the acting performances all around.
Stellan Skarsgard is fabulous as Dima, the Russian mobster who wants to defect but won’t do so until he can guarantee the safety of his family, something British Intelligence isn’t keen on doing. They want the information first, which Dima won’t part with without that guarantee. It’s a loud, boisterous performance by Skarsgard. He’s a hoot to watch in the film. Early on, he has one of the movie’s best lines as he tells McGregor’s Perry “don’t be a sourpussy” when Perry refuses to go to a party with him. Perry quickly corrects him, “It’s sourpuss.”
Better yet, Skarsgard is able to instill a warmth to his character that makes Perry and Gail’s connection to him all the more believable. You’re not sitting in the theater wondering why they are helping this man. Because of Skarsgard’s performance, you know why.
Ewan McGregor is just as good as Perry, but in a more understated way. Perry is the perfect innocenct caught in middle of all the espionage. He could have walked off the set of an old Alfred Hitchcock movie. McGregor is perfect in the role, in what might be my favorite performance of his yet.
He makes Perry a really interesting character. At first, he’s not interested at all in helping Dima, but yet, as MI6 agent Hector points out, he still agreed to deliver the flash drive. Perry is a man of honor, a man of thought who will nonetheless stand up to a Russian thug for striking a woman, a man who will risk his life for another man who he hardly knows because he feels it’s the right thing to do.
And yet, later, when Perry asks Dima why he chose him, Dima answers that Perry was the only other man in the restaurant that night, a remark that provides both men with a laugh.
Rounding out the triumvirate of great performances is Damian Lewis [HOMELAND (2011-2014)] as MI6 agent Hector. Lewis is excellent here, and even with Skarsgard’s larger than life performance as Dima, Lewis’ performance as the complicated and driven British Intelligence Officer might be my favorite of the entire movie.
Lewis makes his mark in his very first scene when his no-nonsense manner dives right into a calculating and pointed questioning of Perry at the airport. At first, we’re not quite sure what to make of Hector, as he lies to both his superiors and to those working under him, but the more we learn about him, the more we understand why he does the things he does, and as a result the more we like him.
The supporting cast is also excellent, led by Naomie Harris as Perry’s wife Gail. She takes what could have been a throwaway role- the wife of the leading man- and makes it into something more. At first, she’s angry with her husband for getting involved, but the more she learns about Dima and his family, the more she wants to help.
I really enjoyed Harris in the two recent Daniel Craig Bond films, SKYFALL (2012) and SPECTRE (2015) where she played Moneypenny, and in those films she certainly wasn’t the Moneypenny of old. She’s just as good here, in a role that provides her with more depth and range.
If you like political thrillers and tales of international intrigue, you’ll love OUR KIND OF TRAITOR.
Dont’ be a sourpussy. Go out and see this one.