Novels by British writer John le Carré take to film about as well as chicken takes to frying. The best of these movies, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, are the fried chicken coq au vin at Le Pigeon: complex and interesting and, ultimately, very satisfying. Our Kind of Traitor, the most recent le Carré caper to drop, is chicken of the grocery store deli variety. It is not great, but it satisfies in a pinch.
In The Constant Gardener and A Most Wanted Man, le Carré excels at bringing the thrills down to earth by settling relatable characters into deep intrigue in exotic locales. The everyman anchoring Our Kind of Traitor is poetry professor Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor), who looks less like the chinless wimp his name implies and more like Movie Star McGregor with longish hair. If Makepeace were the recluse his name implies, we might be more engaged when he is thrown into the company of dashing MI6 agents and burly Russian mafiosos.
While vacationing in Marrakesh with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris), Makepeace befriends charismatic Russian oligarch Dima (Stellan Skarsgård). Dima, it turns out, is the main money launderer for the Russian mob, but he's decided to become an informant against it to save the lives of his loved ones from a homicidal mob boss. While parlaying with fiery MI6 agent Hector (Damian Lewis) in an attempt to be one of the lucky few to get out of the Russian mob alive, Dima and company traipse through beautiful scenery in North Africa, Paris and the French Alps.
The execution of Traitor's plot is less beautiful. The film is clumsy as it strains the audience's suspension of disbelief to its breaking point. The character of Dima is daubed with irritating Russian stereotypes, and it never becomes clear how the audience is supposed to feel about agent Hector. The performances from Skarsgård and Lewis have enough vitality to float the workmanlike show from the rest of the cast, while cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire) relies on saturated colors and hallucinogenic effects to give an otherwise dialogue-heavy movie visual appeal.
This is probably the weakest of le Carré film adaptations to date. But hey, it's still chicken.
Critic's Grade: B-