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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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Dear Irene Cho, I will miss your energy and passion; your optimism and joy; your kindness towards friends, colleagues, strangers, struggling filmmakers, or anyone who randomly crossed your path and needed a hand. My brothers and I have long considered you another sibling in our family. Our holiday photos – both western and eastern – have you among all the cousins, in-laws, and kids… in the snow, sun, opening presents, at large dinner gatherings, playing Monopoly, breaking out pomegranate seeds and teaching us all how to dance Gangnam style. Your friendship and loyalty meant a great deal to me: you were the loudest cheerleader when I experienced victories and you were always ready with sushi when I had disappointments. You had endless crazy ideas which always seemed impossible but you would will them into existence. (Like that time you called me and suggested that we host a brunch for newly elected mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti because “he is going to president one day.” We didn’t have enough time or funding, of course, only your desire to do it. So you did, and I followed.) You created The Daily Buzz from nothing and it survived on your steam in spite of many setbacks because you believed in a platform for emerging filmmakers from all nations. Most of all, you were a wonderful mother to your son, Ethan, a devoted wife to your husband, and a wonderful sibling and daughter to your family. We will all miss how your wonderful smile and energy lit up the room and our lives. Rest in peace, Irene.
~ Rose Kuo Remembers Irene Cho on Facebook

“You know, I was never a critic. I never considered myself as a film critic. I started doing short films, writing screenplays and then for awhile, for a few years I wrote some film theory, including some film criticism because I had to, but I was never… I never had the desire to be a film critic. I never envisioned myself as a film critic, but I did that at a period of my life when I thought I kind of needed to understand things about cinema, understand things about film theory, understand the world map of cinema, and writing about movies gave me that, and also the opportunity to meet filmmakers I admired.

“To me, it was the best possible film school. The way it changed my perspective I suppose is that I believe in this connection between theory and practice. I think that you also make movies with ideas and you need to have ideas about filmmaking to achieve whatever you’re trying to achieve through your movies, but then I started making features in 1986 — a while ago — and I left all that behind.

“For the last three decades I’ve been making movies, I’ve been living, I’ve been observing the world. You become a different person, so basically my perspective on the world in general is very different and I hope that with every movie I make a step forward. I kind of hope I’m a better person, and hopefully a better filmmaker and hopefully try to… It’s very hard for me to go back to a different time when I would have different values in my relationship to filmmaking. I had a stiffer notion of cinema.”
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