Our Kind of Traitor Review: A Muddle of Mediocrity

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Our Kind of Traitor is easily forgettable.

In a dimly lit, expensive Moroccan restaurant, a large Russian man surrounded by an entourage of security guards invites an individual eating alone to join him for a drink. The lone eater, Perry (Ewan McGregor), is a university poetry professor, and given that his wife has just ditched their romantic dinner for her job, he accepts the offer. The Russian, Dima, is a high-ranking member of the Russian mafia, and he quickly requests Perry joins him at a party, which Perry does. The next night, after discovering that the new mafia leader wants Dima dead, Perry agrees to bring a USB filled with information on various criminals back to MI5. Soon, the shy professor is going on secret missions to aid Dima, as well as learning how guns work while engaging in shootouts with Russian hitmen.

Yes, the film adaptation of John le Carré’s acclaimed novel of the same name has a plotline as unrealistic as it sounds.

For reasons Our Kind of Traitor justifies as some vague form of renewed self-purpose, a nobody lecturer decides to James Bondify himself, putting his body on the line for a notorious criminal he feels overwhelming affinity and pity towards.

Ewan Bond (or James McGregor?). Source: Lionsgate
Ewan Bond (or James McGregor?). Source: Lionsgate.

If the ridiculous plot was its only fault, the spy thriller could still have been entertaining. Many films get away with flimsy storylines. Action movies often succeed in masking plot flaws by flaunting awesome fights, explosions and car chases. ‘Who cares if it didn’t all add up?’ we think. ‘That shoot-out was epic!’

It doesn’t help the film’s cause that it is poorly cast and averagely acted. This is particularly evident with Ewan McGregor, who does not suit his role. McGregor’s bashful, almost timid portrayal of Perry felt completely out place in the world of crime and secret agencies. Then again, his character was also completely out of place, so maybe it was fitting. Still, his performance in general was poor, and his involvement contributed to the bland nature of the movie. It is however worth acknowledging Stellan Skarsgård’s affably ruthless portrayal of Dima – one of the film’s scarce examples of quality.

Our Kind of Traitor lacks any ‘wow’ moments.

While there is the occasional fist fight, they infrequently build tension or add excitement. In a film that could have been riddled with edge-of-your-seat moments, I found myself slumped back in my chair, wondering when the credits would roll. Without any gripping action, the narrative seemed to drag, and the film felt far too long. It isn’t even two hours.

Admittedly, the second half improves – albeit slightly. Yet each time I felt myself slip blissfully into the story, something managed to jerk me back to reality. There were clichés around every corner. At this point I should probably offer my apologies to those in the cinema with me for my intermittent deep sighs of frustration. In my defence, using poetry to blatantly express a character’s emotions really grinds my gears.

Stellan Skarsgård's performance was undoubtably one of the film's rare highlights. Source: Lionsgate.
Stellan Skarsgård’s performance was undoubtably one of the film’s rare highlights. Source: Lionsgate.

When the film ended, I was relieved. I hadn’t hated it. It was entertaining enough that I didn’t consider leaving or catching up on some much needed sleep. But it was very far from good, and very close to bad.

I think ultimately this is a testament to cinema’s inability to replicate literature. While John le Carré’s novel would have been able to delve into the complexities of the characters and plot, the film is simply unable to do the same. The outcome is a flawed, often irritating and most definitely mediocre movie.

Some novels should remain just that.

My Rating: 5/10

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