Our Kind of Traitor – John le Carré, Where is Wally Now?

Traitor 4

Traitor 3Spotting elderly British author John le Carré in a movie or television series made from one of his acclaimed novels is becoming the new black. He could be likened to ‘Where’s Wally’ in the new movie made from his book Our Kind of Traitor. He’s a hard man to lock down and when found without a striped scarf, he can be clearly seen enjoying fifteen minutes of fame, while taking a leaf out of his own book to make his mark.

There is no doubt John le Carré will leave a considerable legacy of intelligent words and thrilling entertainment to posterity. He’s also certainly proved he’s a senior literary genius doing his best to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

The plot of his new movie Our Kind of Traitor from StudioCanal is nothing to do with a cold war, but one that continues to overheat around the globe, as an almost insatiable greed for riches expands the criminal element infiltrating modern society and government.

Traitor 6The script of “Traitor” has been penned by Hossein Amini (“The Two Faces of January”) and features a cast of excellent actors, including Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomie Harris, Damian Lewis, Saskia Reeves, Mark Gattis, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Jeremy Northam and Alec Utgoff.

Le Carré thrillers are not about people leaping around and all out action but instead, they creep up on you gradually until suddenly you find your heart pumping loudly, as consequences hit home.

Perry Makepiece (Ewen McGregor) looks suitably romantically inclined with his long shoulder length hair to convince us he’s a poorly paid Professor of Poetics at Oxford University, as well as also suitably academic to have snared a clever wife like Barrister Gail Perkins (Naomie Harris).

They are holidaying together, escaping the depressing atmosphere of London during the credit squeeze. They are also trying to rekindle what seems to be a stale spot in their decade long partnership, well at least until she leaves an expensive restaurant where he’s lamenting the price of the wine, for a previous appointment.

Traitor 1She leaves her Professor in the restaurant looking as if he has been caught between a rock and a hard place, certainly feeling vulnerable. Little does she know their lives are about to change forever in her absence?

Perry is observed looking out of sorts by the tall big noisy man on the next table entertaining his companions. He and Gail had both noticed and courteously greeted them all before she left so its not out of place to talk to him now.

Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård plays Russian money launderer Dima Krasnov with great gravitas. He is a big man both in stature and wealth with an overwhelming presence. A millionaire many times over, we soon discover he has survived a long time by acting on his wits and the instant decisions he makes.

Observing his neighbour left alone, he suddenly decides to invite our reluctant hero who doesn’t like to be rude, to join he and his friends for a glass of forty thousand pound wine. Why not? We only live once so the saying goes.

Traitor 4Perry politely accepts and he truly seems delighted when during the course of the evening he discovers the group’s seeming decadence. Deep down he likes nothing more than to please, our Professor and in all naivety, he is easily drawn deeper and deeper into what ever it is that is going down around him.

Dima impresses his guest by telling him that he can recall all the numbers on his credit card through memory after only a glance, a considerable skill to have. If he does, then he has to spend the rest of the evening with them all.

Little does the Professor know at this point Dima has decided after a hard life of crime, what he really wants as he finds himself advancing towards his imminent demise, is to keep his family whom he’s kept away from his devious dealings, safe.

And he can only do that by becoming a whistle blower. He knows how dangerous the men he works for are and has no illusions about how difficult it is going to be to recruit a stranger to help him to wage his own ‘cold war’.

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He’s already had word and seen pictures that show another entire family of another money launderer being wiped out on a lonely stretch of icy road, and he doesn’t want it to be his families fate.

There are many menacing people around, although Perry seems oblivious to a point. Very soon they are taking him onto a club where prostitutes on ponies and fireworks are the norm, with champagne flowing as if a river of it has been diverted. Perry slowly begins to understand he may have just landed knee deep in a tale of deceit and despair it will be hard to extricate himself from.

What an evening it turns out to be, one in which Perry’s conscience makes him step up to save a young woman from a vicious sexual assault, one that let’s us know he will cross his seeming pacifist line if he has to.

Dima admires both his bravery and stupidity, which comes out of not knowing that he’s really surrounded by Russian mafia. By the end of his big night out we are all praying hope and redemption will arise to save him.

The big Russian keeps his guest safe because he now knows he’s chosen his new best friend well and needs his help because he knows the writing is on the wall for him to die. He’s been only serving a purpose as a front money man for the Russian mafia boss The Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin), helping him to establish a new bank in London.

Traitor 2Dima senses Perry is a ‘good man’, one who may help him in his hour of need and he recruits him to carry information back to MI6 in England on a USB. The picture is not pretty, key British officials in government are involved. Dima knows not only their names, but also they’re account numbers in Switzerland where the bribes they have accepted are hiding.

Perry agrees to help but doesn’t tell Gail, who suddenly wonders why he’s being held up at Customs to help them with their enquiries, when they arrive at Heathrow. Suddenly she’s called into the equation and faces the same dilemma as Perry when making a decision, because there are innocent children involved.

MI6 front man Hector (Damian Lewis) is trying to catch British politician Aubrey Longrigg (Jeremy Northam) whom he knows is involved, but cannot prove it. Aubrey is like many of those at the top, taking money from the most unscrupulous and dangerous people if it means he can keep his fashionably louche lifestyle, his children safe and help to prop up the English institution they work for.

John Le Carre’s Our Kind of Traitor the movie came out in England at the same time as the stunning TV series of another John Le Carré novel The Night Manager, which took six hours to tell its tale well. And so it struggles a little by comparison.

It is a well-paced good-looking thriller with some solid performances; although it does suffer from having the time to do it as well as those who have seen the TV series now know it can be.

Traitor 5The book was only published in 2010. Watching Our Kind of Traitor you can believe there is no place safe to hide any more, not even in a cabin in a remote location in the French Alps, where with pinpoint accuracy in 2016 GPS can and will track you down.

Must say I did find the fact the adults on the run didn’t remove and destroy the sim cards in the kid’s phones when they are fleeing for their lives, strange. It’s one of those pesky details that as an old designer-producer I find irritating, just as I did the wordy links to Dante’s Divine Comedy a fabulous text that we couldn’t really call ‘mainstream’.

This made it seem to me as if the scriptwriter and director were indulging their academic leanings rather than creating clever scenes to heighten the suspense for the audience they are pledged to entertain, all the way through to the end (The Night Manager writers did this so well).

In the end as may be expected, Dima doesn’t make it, but his family thanks to the Professor and his wife Gail, who intercede when MI6 lets them all down, do.  They both prove he was Our Kind of Traitor.

Traitor 7Shame really that Dima didn’t get to know that he did pick the right man to get the job done. Or perhaps he did? He was after all perceptive enough to pick him in the first place. By trusting the Professor, Dima emboldened him and also used his brain to cleverly arrange that justice would finally triumph after the fact when Perry continues to carry out his now friend’s instructions faithfully after he has gone.

Hector is at home cooking up a storm when Perry arrives, believing he has failed his mission to bring down the Brits involved. Dima had been killed before giving him all the account numbers and names to guarantee his family’s safety and help him bring down Aubrey Longrigg.

However suddenly thanks to Perry, Hector finds he still has one more hand to play, just after he thought he might have to retire into oblivion. We know too that finally British justice will prevail after all, because one man trusted both his brain and his heart, a very contemporary challenge.

3.5/5

Watch the Trailer

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

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