Le Carré fil­leted with an un­cer­tain knife

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR Di­rected by Su­sanna White. Star­ring Ewan McGre­gor, Naomie Har­ris, Stel­lan Skars­gård, Damian Lewis, Ali­cia von Rit­tberg, Veli­bor Topic. 15A cert, gen re­lease, 107 min John le Carré al­lowed 17 years to pass be­tween writ­ing The Night Man­ager and Our Kind of Traitor. So, we can’t fairly ac­cuse the author of re­peat­ing him­self. Nonethe­less, the struc­tural sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the two sto­ries are un­de­ni­able. Both con­cern a civil­ian work­ing with a rogue cell in Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence to dis­man­tle a con­spir­acy that goes (as they al­ways say) “right to the top”.

Emerg­ing a few weeks af­ter Su­sanne Bier’s flawed but en­ter­tain­ing TV adap­ta­tion of The Night Man­ager, this take on the later book seems all the more tonally un­cer­tain and po­lit­i­cally cau­tious. Ewan McGre­gor (un­trou­bled by charisma) and Naomie Har­ris (un­trou­bled by any­thing much to do) play a pro­fes­sional cou­ple who rub up against a vul­gar Rus­sian gang­ster while hol­i­day­ing in Morocco. Stel­lan Skars­gard has fun with the great-bel­lied beast – all dropped def­i­nite ar­ti­cles and cliff-shat­ter­ing back slaps – but you would have trou­ble ar­gu­ing that he moves far from My Big Book of Stereo­types. Sens­ing that Ewan can be trusted, the hood passes on a me­mory stick con­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion on money laun­der­ing by the Rus­sian mafia. With this gold, he hopes to buy safe pas­sage to the West.

The novel man­aged an im­pres­sive blend of nar­ra­tive thrust and enig­matic trade­craft chat­ter. The film achieves nei­ther ef­fec­tively. Hos­sein Amini’s script fil­lets out too much meat and leaves us with

Ewan McGre­gor and Naomie Har­ris in Our Kind of Traitor

an ex­cess of in­di­gestible gut. Antony Dod Man­tle’s cam­er­a­work is – un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally for that fine cin­e­matog­ra­pher – shim­mery and un­real in the fash­ion of an Af­ter Eight com­mer­cial. More se­ri­ously, le Carré’s cyn­i­cism is un­der­mined with an ex­tra-time cheat that strips the film of any pun­gency.

Given that Our Kind of Traitor has been in pro­duc­tion for two years, we need make noth­ing of the fact that Jeremy Northam’s un­speak­ably evil, deeply cor­rupt MP rep­re­sents “Is­ling­ton North”. Cur­rent in­cum­bent in real life: Jeremy Cor­byn.

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