Our Kind of Traitor

Issue section: 

The secret world of tax evasion and dirty financial dealing revealed by the Panama papers is the setting for this adaptation of John Le Carre’s 2010 novel.

Specifically, Our Kind of Traitor delves into the realm of Russian mafia and oligarchs and their connections to British financial institutions — and politicians.

And this is timely. Just this year anti-corruption campaigners founded “Kleptocracy tours”, driving around some of the multimillion pound London properties of the Russian ruling class and friends. London’s property market has become a giant money-laundering operation for the super-rich.

Our hero is Perry (Ewan McGregor), an English university professor on holiday in Morocco with his partner, successful lawyer Gail (Naomie Harris).

Perry is the classic Le Carre protagonist — a decent, honourable man in a world which is constantly threatening (and sometimes succeeding) to pull him off track.

He crosses paths with Stellan Skarsgard’s Dima, a Russian mafia man of the old school, who latches onto Perry, taking him to a wild, cocaine-fuelled party at his rented mansion.

Perry’s reaction to a nasty incident he witnesses there convinces Dima he is a man who can be trusted, and thus he is pulled into a plan to make contact with British intelligence.

Dima’s motivation is his new boss, “The Prince”, an odious upstart who looks every inch the upper class hipster, with his neatly trimmed facial hair and three piece suit. The Prince is out to get him and his family, and Dima wants out.

Perry’s motivation is a bit harder to fathom. Perhaps just his desire to do the right thing. How he convinces his sensible — and legally trained — girlfriend to come on board I have no idea.

This is a problem with the film; perhaps because of its running time it is not really able to build up believable reasons for the characters to act in the way they do. We have been spoiled by The Night Manager with its six hours to paint a picture.

They make contact with MI6 in the shape of Damian Lewis who, like the similar character in The Night Manager, is running a side operation with little or no resources. And so our civilians become key players in the escape plan.

The early scenes of the excessive lifestyles of the rich, as well as several brutal episodes of violence against women, are effective. The latter part of the film with the plan in action is less so, and the ending is oddly muted.

While timely, the film is underpowered in skewering the real villains. The rage that I believe Le Carre still feels doesn’t quite come through.