Pop culture seems to be reaching a point of saturation with espionage tales, no doubt due in large part to Daniel Craig making James Bond cool again and Tom Cruise finding some new life in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. It has also led to a revival of appreciation for British spy novelist John le Carré, whose career began in the Cold War and has stretched into the post-9/11 world.
“Our Kind of Traitor,” the latest adaptation of the author’s work, comes at the tail end of a big spate from le Carré. 2011 brought the feature-length version of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy;” 2014 saw the release of “A Most Wanted Man;” earlier in 2016, his novel “The Night Manager” got the prestige mini-series treatment. Given what else has recently been dredged from his oeuvre, it’s hard not to see this new film as second-shelf le Carré.
For a writer whose strength lies in the grounded nature of his stories, the turn of events in “Our Kind of Traitor” is remarkably improbable. Large, bizarre narrative leaps work fine in a larger-than-life series like James Bond. This level of suspension of disbelief and stretches of plausibility feel odd and out of place in this realistic world.
The film’s protagonist, Ewan McGregor’s Perry Makepeace, just happens to be in the wrong place at the right time when he meets Stellan Skarsgard’s Dima, a Russian money launderer looking to go straight, in Marrakesh. Dima wants to get out of the criminal underworld and takes a gamble on the first Englishman he can find. And of course, the dominos just so happen to fall in a way that involves MI6 and produces a number of intriguing plot points. Susanna White’s film is an intelligence movie with fairly little intelligent craftsmanship, neither reflecting on the state of modern back-room diplomacy nor providing a particularly fun cinematic outing. C+ /