There’s something an uncanny quality to Our Kind of Traitor. It looks like cold war thriller, sounds like a cold war thriller but, when you get down to it, it’s not. Not really. It wears the trappings of the genre with pride but, by taking place in modern times, fails to do much beyond wear them.
Based on the John Le Carré novel of the same name, Our Kind of Traitor depicts a shadow war between MI6 and the Russian Mafia, with the married Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomi Watts) caught in the middle. The couple’s escape to Morocco by the endearingly friendly Russian accountant Dima (Stellan Skaarsgard), who slips Perry a memory stick and begs him to deliver it to MI6 when he returns to London. From there, the plot thickens and the stake rise.
As a production, it’s terse and clandestine. The cinematography sits right alongside the best of cold war thrillers with Susanna White‘s direction making it feel like things could spiral out of control at any moment.
Since the film’s modernization of the material is pretty much limited to characters using iPhones, the whole endeavor feels a little lazy. That said, it still feels classic Le Carré – even if it can’t shake that cognitive dissonance.
Watts and McGregor deliver serviceable performances but the real scenestealers here are Skarsgard and Damien Lewis‘ Hector with the former bringing so much charisma it’s hard not to fall in love with him. In fact, his chemistry with McGregor is such that the movie often feels much more about the friendship between the two than anything else.
Meanwhile Lewis’ Hector is weighed down early on by a series of info-dump scenes but quickly becomes a force to be reckoned with once he’s given the freedom to make the role his own.
Still, while it occasionally feels a little thin, Our Kind of Traitor holds its own as a solid enough cold war thriller. Even if it’s kind-of not.