Movie Review: ‘OUR KIND OF TRAITOR’ is barely our kind of thriller


Jared McMillan // Film Critic

Director: Susanna White
Cast: Ewan McGregorStellan SkarsgårdNaomie Harris and Damian Lewis

A slow burn, as it relates to cinema, refers to subtle tension that slowly mounts until an event provides the spark to ignite the plot into action. This is usually an excellent way to convey a steady pace with a movie heavy on drama; the story’s moments can be boring without quick dialogue or cross-cutting.

The works of John le Carre have been constantly described as “slow burns.” Subtle moments that lead to revelations, combined with intelligent script, keep the audience on their toes. With plots revolving around espionage, his protagonists are usually older in age or an everyman caught up in a whirlwind of deception.

Take a look at his latest adaptation the recent miniseries THE NIGHT MANAGER, where Tom Hiddleston, an everyday hotel manager, is recruited by British intelligence to gather information on an international arms dealer. He wasn’t meaning to be involved, but a seduction leads him to become an informant. The traits of his main characters lead to sympathy, as their confusion and lack of knowledge drive the plot for the audience.

In the latest book-to-screen translation, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR, the film takes these same traits to the protagonist, as a teacher becomes wrapped in a plot to change the infrastructure of the Russian mafia. Only the formula doesn’t exactly hold up as compared to the previous Hollywood treatments, and it just sort of passes along without any of the same crackling excitement.

The story opens on an assassination sequence, after a successful business deal takes place at the ballet. However, it turns out to be a coup by a figurehead known as The Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin), looking to corner the Russian black market. Meanwhile, our protagonist Perry (Ewan McGregor) is in Morocco trying to salvage his relationship with Gail (Naomie Harris) after having an affair with a student.

Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård in OUR KIND OF TRAITOR. Photo credit: Jaap Buitendijk.

Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård in OUR KIND OF TRAITOR.
Photo credit: Jaap Buitendijk.

It is here that Perry meets Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), an “accountant” for the Russian mob. Full of energy and charisma, he draws Perry into his world, but with an ulterior motive: He needs to get some information to the British Secret Service, led by Hector (Damian Lewis). Because Perry has been privy to the inside dealings of this formidable organization, Hector is audibly suspicious of his new handler. Can Perry realize Dima’s goal of keeping his family safe, or will The Prince become wise to the switch?

Directed by Susanna White, OUR KIND OF TRAITOR employs excellent technique in keeping a visual style to the story. A lot of shots that incorporate reflections or doubles can’t help but call homage to certain film noir, as it marks a symbol of questionable motives or confusion. Also, Skarsgard’s portrayal of Dima is like a bolt of lightning every time he enters the frame. He is boisterous and full of life, living like he might not have a tomorrow, which becomes abundantly clear as the narrative progresses.

That being said, it can be dull at parts, mainly because Perry is so dryly written. McGregor does the best he can, but the problem is that Perry has nothing about him to make the audience relate, other than that he is willing to help. Also, Gina is there only as a device to help translate Perry’s redemption from the doghouse, but her entire character is mishandled. In spite of these character development issues, the biggest problem is that the movie has the plot of the standard le Carre slow burner, but is edited like a full-throttle action movie; it creates a dichotomous tone overall, where one half of the movie is welcomed, while the other is forgettable.

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR has some good things about it, but it turns out to be just like its protagonist: just an OK personality, and constantly looking to Dima to help realize its purpose.

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR is out in theaters this weekend.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.