Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Review: Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor
Cert: 15 / 108 mins / Dir. Susanna White / Trailer

Ah, what could be better for the lunchtime film-slot than catching up with Obi-Wan, Monneypenny and Bootstrap Bill? Perhaps only doing it at the ear-splitting volume normally reserved for crap horror movies? (That's your call, Cineworld, but it's not like there's mumbled dialogue to make up for in this film)

So, director Susanna White manages to do what Tomas Alfredson apparently couldn't all those years ago, and brings a John Le Carré thriller to the big screen without it being a complete, stilted mess. And at no point is a tent-based live entertainment facility identified in the script as having a Talpidae-infestation in its uppermost reaches…

University lecturer Perry (Ewan McGregor), his barrister wife Gail (Naomi Harris), Russian Mafia informant Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) and British Intelligence operative Hector (Damian Lewis) lead the story of corruption and money laundering through Marrakech, London, Paris and Bern, in a surprisingly tense thriller that never feels over-egged, somehow.

Harris, Skarsgård and Lewis are fantastic as the core characters for the film, sometimes leaving Ewan McGregor struggling to keep up. He struggles well, but you can see the strain. Meanwhile, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle comes through his desaturated colour-palette and subdued lighting, and manages to conjure reflections and lens-flare as if by magic. It's a striking combination, but it works well. Visually, the film is definitely glossier than a made-for-TV thriller, but its content wouldn't be out of place at 9pm on a Sunday evening*1 (although this says more about the quality of modern TV than it does about cinema, admittedly).

With its 108 minute runtime, the film rolls at a very measured pace, with White neither rushing nor dawdling, allowing the plot to unfurl organically. And there's little-to-none of the double-cross twists you'd expect of the genre, if only because the audience don't fully trust any of the characters to begin with.

The film may not pick up too many awards (or even that much recognition), but Our Kind of Traitor is an example of a film succeeding in a genre which should be more than overcrowded by now. An intelligent thriller which never feels it has to be needlessly confusing or obscure in its storytelling.
Come for the writing; stay for the performances.

And massive props go to screenwriter Hossein Amini, who gives Mark Gatiss the best acerbic (and utterly deadpan) quip of the film with "…I don't like the c**t any more than you do". Unless your name is Guy Ritchie, you do not drop a line like that lightly.

The second-best dialogue exchange comes in a car-scene, as Stellan opens his shirt to Ewan, revealing a chest inked in symbolic mafia ephemera. "Do you know what this is?", he asks, pointing to an illustration over his solar plexus. "Is it a clearly fake tattoo…", Ewan replies, "…drawn on less than ten minutes ago in blue felt-tips by the work-experience kid who's heard of Russian Mafia tats, but has never seen one?".
Stellan looks out of the window awkwardly as the scene fades to black…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
It's more A Most Wanted Man than Tinker, Tailor.
To its credit

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Only if you want to appreciate the cinematography on a massive screen.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Not best, but deserving of a place on the CV, certainly.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Obi-Wan Kenobi's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although it's also worth pointing out that director Susanna White has helmed relatively few cinematic features, but has a lot of solid TV work under her belt.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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