Sunday, 22 May 2016

Our Kind Of Traitor (15)

John Le Carre is on something of an up-swing at the moment.

Since Gary Oldman put on a mac and brought George Smiley to the big screen, his works seem to be back in demand.

With several projects already in various states of production, now that Le Carre and his family have taken control of his output we are being treated to some quality adaptations of some quality books.

First we had Tom Hiddleston tearing it up on Sunday night TV as The Night Manager, and now we have Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis bringing Our Kind Of Traitor to the big screen.

Not a book I've read yet (I've only just finished The Honourable Schoolboy - there's a whole list thing going on, don't ask. Oh, you didn't...) so I went into this not knowing anything about the story or characters.

Which, it turns out, is the best way to see it. Because you can just wallow in the action as events unfold in front of your eyes.

And for that reason, I'll sum up the plot thus: Paths cross, people meet, things happen, you don't move for the second half of the film.

Central to the story are McGregor and the brilliant Naomie Harris, a couple trying to rebuild their relationship while all the shit goes down around them.

Shit caused by Stellan Skarsgard who doesn't put a foot wrong as a Russian hood trying to negotiate his way out of a hole.

Then we have Lewis, a man I'm more familiar with as the hero/traitor Brody in Homeland.

And it's about 20/30 minutes in when you start to realise just how good OKOT is.

Because Lewis is brilliantly understated, McGregor is putting in one of his best performances in years (if not ever), Harris is quietly superb and Skarsgard is simply sublime.

Good actors putting in top performances is always going to make things more enjoyable, right?

But then you realise what you're looking at.

Every scene is warm and lush, cushioning you for when the bad stuff happens, and every shot clearly well considered.

At times, director Susanna White (on only her second big screen outing - the first being Nanny McPhee Returns) brings the sweeping vistas of the classic Bond era to mind, at others the close-up work of Greengrass' Bourne outings.

But at no point do you think she's being derivative, far from it.

White clearly knows her way around a story, and with OKOT (I'm not sure that will catch on) she paces things so perfectly you actually don't notice the moment when you become hooked.

You're enjoying the film, you're loving what you see on the screen, you're intrigued as to where things are going, and then, from out of nowhere, you suddenly become very aware of the fact you've not moved or shuffled for a long time and you've been holding your breath for the last five minutes.

And it's all done through those old-fashioned tropes - acting and narrative.

You care about the characters, you really care about where the story is going, and without so much as an action set-piece or a massive shoot-em-up-explosion-fest White gently holds your hand and doesn't let go.

And then grips even harder.

By the end you don't want her to let go, even though it's starting to hurt.

And yes, there are a few moments when you raise a wry eyebrow (she's really got a mobile signal out there?) but the whole film will have entranced you so much by the time they arrive you won't give a monkey's.

A monkey's what, I don't know. But you won't give one. Whatever it is.

In an age where thrillers seem to need car chases and shouting, it's both heart-warming and refreshing to watch a film that grips you without needing either.

A more complete, brilliantly acted, wonderfully scripted drama I've yet to see this year.

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