Our Kind of Traitor (15.)
Directed by Susanna White.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Naomie Harris, Damian Lewis, Khalid Abdalla and Grigoriy Dobrygin. 107 mins
Yes, of course it's a Le Carre. Even if you didn't know the title already, you'd know. That title is quintessential Le Carre. Le Carre made his reputation with Cold War tales of old school ties locking horn with their Russian counterparts, but has had to adapt that to a changing world: he now does tales of old school ties locking horns with the Russian mafia.
This adaptation comes from Hossein Amini, who wrote Drive, and may have been given the job because the plot is an inverse of the Patricia Highsmith story he adapted for his directorial debut, The Two Faces of January. In that a young man in an exotic foreign location becomes wrapped up in the affairs of a mysterious couple; here a London couple (McGregor and Harris) who are struggling through a romantic trip to Marrakesh get sucked into the schemes of Russian mafiosi Dima (Skarsgard.) Fearing for his life now that the mob has come under the control of a new Prince (Dobrygin), Dima wants to spill his money laundering secrets to the Brits, and sees McGregor's character as the way to get his message to British intelligence, personified here by Lewis wearing glasses that suggest he has to come dressed as Harry Palmer to his Bond audition.
A possible sticking point with audiences could be the way it puts a wildly improbable figure into a realistic scenario and then plays it absolutely straight. Perry is a lecturer in poetry - which I think translates into gullible rube in any language - but having been so easily ensnared by Skarsgard to do his bidding, then turns it into a moral crusader. Other than showing him to have an unusually strong sense of honour, the film boldly doesn't offer any explanation for the way he eagerly embraces danger or why, after some initial scepticism, his wife also becomes wrapped up in the adventure. I'm guessing Le Carre likes to play these kind of games as a way to illustrate how absurd this world is, and as a taste of danger for the writer – like Perry, he wants to find out how much he can get away with.
With its tale of corrupt British politicians in the pay of the Russian mob and the economic powerhouse of the City being propelled mostly by blood money it is bang up to date. That the new, two bearded, Prince bears a resemblance to Evening Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev is a topical touch that is surely entirely coincidental. In most ways though it is a traditional espionage, following a jet set route through Marrakesh, London, Paris and Bern and featuring the kind of cold blooded bartering over people's lives that has always been Le Carre's forte. It's a decent enough espionage yarn, and like any decent enough espionage yarn you never know who to trust – is Le Carre really serious with this crusading, idealistic poetry lecturer?