sat 15/06/2024

Our Kind of Traitor | reviews, news & interviews

Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor

Ewan McGregor is an accidental nemesis in another Le Carré tirade against the establishment

Lecturer tools up: Ewan McGregor in 'Our Kind of Traitor'

John Le Carré made it quite clear what he thinks of the new world order in The Night Manager. All together now: a nexus of corrupt money and sinister establishment interests make for cynical realpolitik. It’s a persuasive weltanschauung that plays well to millennials priced out of their own future by ungovernable global forces beyond the reproof of electorates. But the message can become a bit of a stuck record. Take Our Kind of Traitor.

The latest Le Carré adaptation features an innocent bystander sucked into a plot to bring down a shady business organisation which has links to self-interested British power networks. His handler is a British spy operating without authority on a shoestring budget. Sounding familiar? For Jonathan Pine, substitute Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor), a lecturer in literature on holiday in Marrakesh in order to patch up his relationship with his lawyer girlfriend Gail (Naomie Harris) after a fling with a student.

He is drawn into a drink with a charismatic Russian called Dima (Stellan Skarsgård). Dima’s ulterior motive is revealed when Perry and Gail are lured to an orgiastic party where Dima implores Perry to carry a message to MI6: that he is prepared to rat on the ruthless Russian Mafioso whose money he launders, and by whose henchmen he is constantly watched. The quid pro quo is residency visas for Dima and his family.

Back in Blighty the powers that be (shadily represented by Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Northam) are not at all certain they want to do business. The crime boss is about to pump a vatload of cash into the City and it seems that UK plc would rather not put his nose out of joint. The lone crusader who wants to do battle is Hector (Damian Lewis in thick-rimmed specs, pictured below), spurred on by a particularly personal vendetta.

What follows is another homily from Le Carré about what the script calls “black money, blood money”. The question is whether the story merits another telling. The spycraft elements make for some nailbiting sequences, one of them involving a game of cat and mouse in a Paris sports club, another in Arsenal’s Emirates stadium. Despite an impressive cast on reliably good form, there’s no one really to root for. McGregor's Makepeace – the name suggests a slightly wet do-gooder from a morality play – makes for a bland protagonist, and his relationship with Harris’s lawyer feels sketched in, although it’s a detailed oil painting compared to Skarsgård’s with his wife, an almost wordless Saskia Reeves. Meanwhile, as an honorable nemesis, Lewis's spook feels a little too cool and passionless to set the pulse racing.

Le Carré's obsession with the super-rich means that, willy nilly, you have to spend time in their vapid world, one in which a beautiful cameo from Carlos Acosta is as much of an accessory as a vintage Petrus or a bling-encrusted prostitute. Director Susanna White has a much smaller budget to work on as she visits some of The Night Manager’s locations – North Africa, the Alps, Whitehall. Her greatest visual coup is an aerial explosion in a clear blue sky, an image of terrible beauty to bookend the snow-white slaughter at the start of the film.

By the time Le Carré wrote Our Kind of Traitor – it was published in 2010 – he was far more interested in giving his enemy a righteous kicking, so scriptwriter Hossein Amini has not had to rewrite the plot the way David Farr did with Pine and co to deliver a satisfying denouement with a deliciously intricate twist.

Overleaf: watch the trailor to Our Kind of Traitor


The problem with Le Carré's obsession with the super-rich is, willy nilly, you have to spend time in their vapid world


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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