Le Carré filleted with an uncertain knife
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.