Our Kind Of Traitor Review
Anyone suffering from Night Manager cold turkey might be tempted to turn to this new John Le Carre adaptation, but they should be warned that this is a different kettle of fish - not necessarily worse, but definitely not the same.
Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) and Gail Perkins (Naomie Harris) are a couple on holiday in Morocco, struggling with marital issues. They meet Dima (Stellan Skarsgaard), a top dog in the Russian mafia who is eager to befriend Perry - and, in the process, solicit his help with a very tricky problem.
Dima is living on borrowed time, and is due to eliminate long with his family once he has signed off on the accounts which he has been responsible for. But he's willing to sell his secrets in return for safe passage for him and his family in England.
Perry makes contact with Hector (Damian Lewis), an MI5 agent who's keen to make use of Dima's information, but this being a Le Carre story, things are never that simple. As ever, there heels within heels at Whitehall, happy to sell out the good guys in return for a suitcase full of fivers.
The first thing to bear in mind is that this is a film. Obvious, I know. But remember that The Night Manager was made for television and lasted for 6 hours. Our Kind of Traitor clocks in at just under 2 hours and as a result, feels both too long and too short. The other thing to consider is that Le Carre's books are - in essence - moral thrillers, not action thrlllers. Yes, there is tension, but not the Jack Reacher/Jason Bourne kind of tension based on car chases, fist fights and shootings. Its more a question of doing the right or the wrong thing, reflected in choices about morality, loyalty and treachery.
As a result, the advantage that The Night Manager (and other TV adaptations of Le Carre like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), is that the audience has the time to get to know the main characters, what makes them tick and why they make the choices they do. It allows breathing space, which is so essential to the enjoyment of subtleties.
Our Kind of Traitor doesn't have that luxury. We just have to take Perry and Gail's unhappiness at face value, as well as Perry's eagerness to do the right thing, when most people would look the other way.
The film also adds in moments of melodrama that feel forced, not least because they were not in the original book, most of which involve turning Perry into an unlikely action man. And at the end, we are offered a considerably more optimistic outcome than Le Carre allowed us.
I don't want to sound as though I'm disparaging the film. The leading actors all do well with limited roles (though Damian Lewis - despite or because of his Michael Caine/Harry Palmer glasses - fails to make as much of an impression as you might expect). The pace is as busy as the dictates of a thriller require, and we even have Mark Gatiss offering a northern accent.
But it's not enough to make us forget Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, and the leisurely and hypnotic pace that beguiled us week after week. It feels good enough for a night out at the cinema, but fails to live up to the highest standards of Le Carre adaptations, not least The Secret Gardener, which remains the best film version of one of the novels.