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‘Our Kind of Traitor’ review: John le Carré adaptation a rare flop

Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris and Damian Lewis in

Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris and Damian Lewis in "Our Kind of Traitor." Credit: Studio Canal / Japp Buitendijk

PLOT A classics professor becomes a reluctant player in a British-Russian information exchange.

CAST Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomie Harris

RATED R (some bloody violence)


BOTTOM LINE Feeble action and bogus plotting make this one of the dullest John le Carré adaptations you’ll ever see.

Imagine you’re a literature professor vacationing in beautiful but lawless Morocco. You’re alone in a restaurant when in walks a Russian gangster named Dima. He invites you for a drink, then to a cocaine party and eventually asks a favor: Could you take this thumb drive of incriminating information to MI6? He’d do it himself, you see, but he and his family would be killed.

Would you oblige? If so, congratulations! You’re the dumbest tourist in the history of international travel.

Ewan McGregor plays that professor, named Perry, in “Our Kind of Traitor,” based on one of John le Carré’s less plausible novels. Perry is a hero whose shoes are impossible for us to step into, partly because he’s ridiculously noble — at that party, he stops a rape by attacking the massive perpetrator — and partly because he never suspects he’s being duped or used. When MI6 agent Hector (Damian Lewis) asks why anyone would ferry information for a criminal he just met, Perry answers guilelessly, “He seemed scared.”

Driven almost entirely by such threadbare motivations, “Our Kind of Traitor” is the rare le Carré adaptation in which everything is exactly as corny as it seems. You’ll wait in vain for a shocking betrayal or a stunning revelation. Instead, you’ll get a rudimentary plot about a British politician, Aubrey Longrigg (Jeremy Northam), who’s taking money from a Russian oligarch named The Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin). We barely meet either one, so it’s a little difficult to care.

The film’s one bright spot is Stellan Skarsgård as Dima. Wearing a leather jacket and an oily mullet, Dima looks like movie mobsters often do, but Skarsgård turns him into an appealing personality with a lust for life and a world-weary wisdom. Naomie Harris, by contrast, is ill-used as Perry’s wife, Gail, whose job is to stand by her gullible man and provide a lap for any frightened children.

Directed with a strange sense of calm by Susanna White from Hossein Amini’s belabored screenplay, “Our Kind of Traitor” skimps on action and never builds anything close to suspense. The moral of the story: Always carry items through customs for people you don’t know.

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