With screenwriting credits on the likes of Drive and The Two Faces of January, it comes as little surprise to see Hossein Amini now try his hand at adapting the work of John le Carré, given he has portrayed quite the aptitude for suspense in his preceding film noir. But to evoke such anxiety amongst the audience is then a duty passed on to the director Susanna White, who has excelled in her latest endeavour, Our Kind of Traitor.
Perry (Ewan McGregor) and partner Gail (Naomie Harris) are striving to consolidate their bond with a romantic break to Morocco – but find themselves caught up in something far bigger: left with the task of not only saving their relationship, but people’s lives. For when the latter takes an important work call, Perry is approached by the volatile Russian millionaire Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) who invites him over for a drink. Befriending the tourist, Dima insists he sees more of the couple, and his intentions become clear when asking the susceptible professor to hand in a USB stick to the UK government with vital information against the Russian mafia that he feels is deserving of a safe asylum for himself and his family. With detective Hector (Damian Lewis) on top of matters, a race against time ensues as they seek to rescue Dima before his safety is compromised from those he has betrayed.
White places the viewer in the shoes of Perry, who makes for a relatable protagonist – an essential ingredient as we have to invest in his situation and comprehend his actions. Of course there are moments where you may disagree wildly, but it’s never beyond the realms of possibility. The casting is spot-on too, for McGregor has a wonderful ability to represent the everyman, while Skarsgard has a certain enchantment to his demeanour, an enigmatic performer who you can completely believe has the ability to manipulative strangers – while you never once doubt his shady past. The dynamic between these two characters is what sets the tone to this indelible picture, as there’s a certain sadness that is prevalent within the work of le Carré, and it’s on show within Our Kind of Traitor, as you realise that both men are living out a somewhat lonely existence.
This is one of several layers to this intensely profound drama also in the study of the relationship between Perry and Gail, as the fact she’s the breadwinner presents a fully contemporary edge to this narrative, and though subtly enforced, leads to the former feeling emasculated, which again drives, albeit subconsciously, his decisions. It is these elements which are emblematic of a film that carries much more than meets the eye.