Film Review – Our Kind of Traitor
Our Kind of Traitor
The score setting off Our Kind of Traitor creates a sense of unease as we see a beautifully dressed teenage girl enjoying a ballet concert in juxtaposition with her father signing some papers in a fancy board room full of well dressed but dangerous looking men. The mood is set for high society mixing with the underworld, intrigue and violence appearing ripe at any second. An auspicious start that never stays at that level.
Cutting to Morocco we see Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) and his wife Gail Perkins (Naomi Harris) on holiday trying to reconnect, though it appears to be going badly. So when Gail is called away on business Perry is invited to have a drink with a Russian named Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who with his gregarious personality easily convinces Perry to go out and party with him, and then the next day invites him and his wife to play tennis and later to come to his daughter’s birthday party.
This time spent with Dima, knowing that he must have mafia connections of some kind just from who he is around and his attitude, and trying to see what it is that has gotten him interested in Perry offers some contemplative questions unusual for a thriller. He obviously has no reason to want to hurt Perry and does seem to like him, but to be this generous with his time and wealth seems bizarre until the real reason is revealed. He wants to get information to MI6.
Now Perry and Gail are brought into a world they do not know and this should be where things start to pick up but instead, despite a supposed greater sense of urgency, that is not the case. They talk to an agent Hector (Damien Lewis) and that should be the end of their involvement but then they are needed for another part of the plan and pretty passively allow themselves to get involved.
Perry and Gail should be our way in to see the crime world from normal people’s perspectives and yet they are so quickly involved and seem to adapt with no problem they actually lose more personality as they get in deeper. They have no hardships to challenge them about why they are doing this, no change in what is happening to “them” as couple. They are never even really horrified by some of the darker stuff they see. It was disconcerting that they could so easily blend in with the more dangerous crowd that it becomes unclear why the filmmakers bothered making them civilians in the first place. Hector at least seems to be emotive about his desire to take down the corrupt individuals and gets in a few good scenes of threatening some dirty politicians that was fun. And Dima gets to be bombastic and sarcastic to powerful mob figures, adding some levity but these are just some good little bits stuck in between the general plot.
For a thriller there really is nothing that is particularly surprising about what happens. Not that everything is predictable; it’s just that it moves along and there is no moment of excitement about what will happen or a sense of danger even when bad things happen. Director Susanna White has the shots down, and the nuts and bolts of a thriller, but lacks a way to create real tension. This didn’t need a big car chase or explosions; this is supposed to be a more realistic telling with more bureaucracy and technical details rather than extravagant fighting. But she fails to create a way that makes these moments have the weight to them she wants. The mood and pacing of everything that is happening is just languidly moving around with these people and seeing what transpires. There was never a moment of investment in what happened beyond bad guys are evil and I want them to be punished. I couldn’t care less about them.
This was a missed opportunity, with such an interesting cast and the first thirty minutes building up the tension and mystery. There was a lot that could have happened but rather, after everything is revealed, the film cannot keep itself going on its own momentum. Instead it goes through the motions of being a thriller while lacking a real hook to keep us involved.