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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Film: Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor (Two and a Half Stars)
U.K.: Susanna White, 2016

Our Kind Of Traitor should be our kind of spy-suspense movie — a gourmet treat based on a John le Carré novel. But sadly, it almost isn’t. Though certainly a good film — or good enough — it’s a disappointment, despite a pedigree that seems impeccable: a classy adaptation from another of the author’s descents into the often deadly twilight world of spies and counterspies, traitors,, politicians, killers, and double and triple-dealers. There’s also a good director (British TV’s Susanna White), classy technicians and an excellent international cast headed by Ewan McGregor and the great sad-eyed Swede, Stellan Skarsgård — a Scandinavian thespian who can portray disgust and resignation better than almost any other living actor, and here has plenty to be disgusted about.

Skarsgård plays Dima, a money-launderer for the Russian Mafia, who is trying to defect with his family to The West. Since this is a le Carre story though, danger and duplicity lie everywhere. The seemingly genial Dima runs into heavy weather mostly because he has proof, on a USB drive, of crooked dealings with the Mafia by some elite British politicians and businessmen. Le Carre is, as always, a master of offbeat characterization and the rest of the memorable cast around Dima includes McGregor as Perry Makepeace, a British professor of poetry on holiday with his wife in Marrakesh, Damian Lewis as Hector, a savvy M16 agent trying to facilitate the switch, Grigory Dobrynion as the brutal Mafia boss The Price, Jeremy Northam as a possible second traitor, and Naomie Harris as Perry’s beautiful but troubled wife Gail.

Perry and Gail are in Marrakesh, trying to patch up their marriage when they meet Dima, who, with that terrific ragged Skarsgård smile, seduces Perry into attending a hedonistic Russian party, then into a vigorous tennis game. Soon Perry is hopelessly entangled with the fate of the strange, pushy man who has become his friend, along with Dima’s endangered family, and the politicos, agents and international criminals swirling around them.

The Makepeaces are an old-fashioned thriller couple. In the ‘30s, before Bondmaster Ian Fleming set his stylized, vicious spy stories among the professionals, the great spy thrillers of writers like Graham Greene and Eric Ambler (or for that matter Alfred Hitchcock) usually used protagonists who were amateurs and who somehow stumbled into the spy games of the professionals. That’s what happens here: Perry, despite the chilly wy McGregor plays him, is the amateur whose emotions and amateurishness may trip him up. Dima is the professional who knows the odds are against him, and, in Skarsgård’s hands, he becomes the pounding heart of this movie.

Susanna White and Hossein Animi, who, respectively, directed and wrote Our Kind of Traitor, are both specialists in high literary adaptations. (If Ambler was still around, they might be adapting him, and they may well get around to Greene some day.) She’s made British TV films based on three great novels: Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House,” Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” and Ford Madox Ford’s “Parade’s End,” and a feature film based on suspense master Patricia Highsmith’s “The Two Faces of January.” Animi, besides scripting Nicholas Winding Refn’s icy suspense-action movie “Drive,” has written film adaptations of Henry James’ “The Wings of the Dove” and Thomas Hardy’s “Jude (the Obscure).“

Obviously, they both have superb literary taste, at least in their choice of projects. But Traitor isn’t the kind of success that seems within reach, that might have been. Some of the actors (like the otherwise admirable Lewis) seem younger than they should be. The hooks don’t grip us, and the ending doesn’t wipe you out the way it should. But you can’t have everything, as Perry Makepeace learns. Our Kind of Traitor is at least the kind of intelligent adult and engagingly literary film that we just don’t see enough in our theat34s. And, in Stellan Skarsgård, it has one of those actors who can, all by himself, make our kind of movie.

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“The purpose of film isn’t to present the kindness of the world.”
~ Isabelle Huppert

The Promised Land steers into the fact that the United States can mean whatever people want it to mean. You may not be able to be Elvis, but you can sure as shit impersonate him for a living. America, like its current President (at least as of this article’s publication), is so dangerous precisely because it’s a blank canvas on which anyone can project their dreams. Whatever it is that you see for yourself, there’s someone you can pay for the pleasure of believing that it’s possible. In his view, the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate con, a delusion that prevents us from seeing our circumstances for what they are.

“Forget the Matrix, it’s the invention of happiness that blinded us to the truth. The rich got richer and the poor help them do it. Jarecki doesn’t argue that the American Dream is dead; he argues that it was never alive in the first place — that we were all lobsters in a pot full of water that was boiling too slowly for any of us to notice. And now it’s time for dinner. Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. Elvis has left the building.”
~ David Ehrlich