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Our Kind of Traitor passes muster as decent entertainment
JOHN Le Carré, master storyteller and former MI6 spy, authors real-world thrillers about international espionage, political intrigue and murder investigations - far removed from the fantasy realms inhabited by super-secret agents like James Bond, Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne. Instead, his complicated, compelling tales feature a variety of anti-heroes: a retired spy, a diplomat or - in the case of the latest film adaptation of one of his books - a college professor.
Our Kind of Traitor, the 11th of Le Carré's novels to make it to the big screen, doesn't belong in the same league as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965) or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) but - given the current choices in local cinemas - it passes muster as decent entertainment for grown-ups.
The film, directed by Susanna White and written by Hossein Amini, is about an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. One minute, mild-mannered teacher Perry Makepiece (Ewan McGregor) and his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) are holidaying in Morocco and the next, they're caught up in an intricate web involving corrupt politicians, British intelligence and a brutal crime syndicate.
It begins with a shocking assassination and an introduction to the inner workings of the Russian mafia, then slowly reels viewers in with the help of a nicely nuanced, underplayed performance by McGregor and a scenery-chewing turn by Stellan Skarsgard as a high-profile money-launderer.
Skarsgard (his son Alexander is currently swinging through the big screen as Tarzan) plays Dimi, a boisterous, leather-jacketed, hard-partying Russian mobster who initiates contact with Perry in a restaurant. Guilty of a past transgression, Perry has come to Morocco in the hopes of patching up his faltering relationship with Gail. "Everything has consequences, Perry," she admonishes - but that doesn't stop him from making merry with Dimi, who is the kind of guy who presents his daughter with a live camel as a thoughtful birthday gift.
Perry is clearly out of his depth but readily agrees to help when Dimi secretly asks him to pass on a USB file containing sensitive information to MI6. A change at the top of the mafia hierarchy is about to reduce Dimi's status to that of a former money-launderer, so he offers to turn informant against his bosses in return for safe passage for his wife and family.
Over at MI6, intelligence officer Hector (Damian Lewis) has his own reasons for wanting to follow up: the evidence provided by Dimi points to a crooked British politician - and one-time thorn in Hector's side - Aubrey Longrigg (Jeremy Northam). Hector's superiors are reluctant to commit resources to the case, but he proceeds anyway.
Dimi knows that once he signs off on his official duties with the mob, he and his family will be history. Perry may be a lowly professor but he's also a man of integrity - just how far will he go to help a near-stranger? All the way, it seems.
As he takes to the field in an attempt to save Dimi and his family, Perry tangles with the big boys in a dangerous game of hide-and-seek. It just goes to show that sometimes, ordinary guys can make a difference.