Thursday, March 30, 2017

Our Kind of Traitor


Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgaard, Damian Lewis, Khalid Abdalla, Jeremy Northam

Rated R for Violence, Language Throughout, Some Sexuality, Nudity and Brief Drug Use

I'm not married, but I imagine there are far better ways to spice up a stale relationship than espionage between the British government and Russian gangsters.  Not to mention safer.  I mean, isn't that what propelled "50 Shades of Grey" to the bestseller list?  Never mind.  It doesn't really matter because neither of the two protagonists had any interests in being the middle man between MI-6 and the Russian mafia.  Like in virtually every Hitchcock movie, it just happened.

Things are not going well between Perry (McGregor) and Gail (Harris).  They are in a committed relationship, but the passion between them is icy.  In an attempt to salvage what they have, they took a vacation to Marrakesh.  So far it's not working; at best, they talk to each other in empty conversation and at worst their attempts at intimacy end in disaster.  Shortly before they leave, Gail takes a work-related phone call and Perry is invited to party with a charismatic man named Dima (Skarsgaard).  He's obviously wealthy and loves to spend money, and the meek Perry goes along with the flow.  It turns out that Dima is a money launderer for the Russian mafia, and begs Perry to take a memory stick to MI-6.  Perry reluctantly agrees since refusing to do so would mean death for Dima and his family.  He turns it over to the authorities, thinking that will be the end of it.  Of course, things are never that simple.

"Our Kind of Traitor" is a good movie.  It's generally well-acted and contains a lot of suspense.  But while watching this movie, I had the feeling that it could have, and should have, been better.  The screenplay is underwritten, leaving drastic decisions feel motivated not by the characters but the needs of the plot.  A good thriller will allow you to understand not only what is happening but why.  "Our Kind of Traitor" doesn't rise to that level.

The cast includes some big names, especially for a film with a budget of a measly $4 million.  Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgaard, Damian Lewis.  Big talent for such a small film.  Unfortunately, the two biggest names aren't up to their usual standards.  Ewan McGregor, always an interesting actor to watch, is flat.  Granted, Perry is supposed to be in over his head, but McGregor seems like a deer caught in the headlights.  There's a difference between playing a character who is out of his element and just not trying, and unfortunately its the latter for McGregor.  Swiss legend Stellan Skarsgaard is better, but he's coasting by on his charisma.  He's been better in other movies.  Naomie Harris on the other hand is in top form, continuing to mature as an actress with every role that she gets.  Harris has that ethereal quality that the best and most glamorous actresses (such as Gong Li) have: an almost ethereal presence that allows them to dominate the screen simply by appearing on it.  And she has the acting chops to back it up.  Damian Lewis is given the quirkiest character, the sniveling investigator who may not be as big of a weasel as he seems.

What holds this movie back is noticeably felt, but hard to identify.  The character arcs for Perry and Gail, where they turn from unwilling participants to fierce protectors, is sloppily written.  Something so gradual appears to happen in one day.  And off screen, no less.  And the stakes never feel that high.  Director Susanna White keeps things understated, which has its positives and negatives.  While this allows the characters to stand out, it only allows the suspense to rise to a certain level.  It also has the unintended effect of allowing the seams in the plot to show.

Still, I enjoyed myself.  There is a consistent level of tension from beginning to end, and Naomie Harris is one of those actresses that is worth watching in any capacity.  And it's made for adults.  No quick cuts or garish special effects, no dumbing down of the plot, and no attractive but untalented tween stars and starlets.  And best of all, no superheroes.

Need I say more?

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