Our Kind Of Traitor. (Russian, Old Skool, Quite Scary).

our traitor

 

Mildly interesting fact: The Sloth used to work for the literary agent who represented John le Carré, best-selling author of Our Kind Of Traitor and reputedly an ex-spy, which he never confirms nor denies. We would speak to him on the phone and he was mightily intimidating, which sadly prevented us asking ‘so did you get to use poison tipped umbrellas & stuff?’.

 

Mr Le Carré and his old skool, Cold War thrillers are currently enjoying a field day, what with Putin’s stellar work to re-instigate Russia as Public Enemy Number One.  Most recently with Tom Hiddlesbum’s extended Bond audition in The Night Manager and now Our Kind Of Traitor’s outing on the big screen.

 

Ewan McGregor, in floppy haired ‘dowdy’ mode, plays Perry Makepeace – clearly a random name with no character implications whatsoever. A nice guy and gentleman, Perry is on a weekend break in Marrakech with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris), to try and boost their struggling relationship (see, totally random name). Except it’s not going too well, so when Gail excuses herself to take yet another work call, a frustrated Perry is invited by Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), a raucous Russian, to join him and his friends for a drink. Which leads to another drink, which leads to a party at a rich Russian’s house, during which Perry stumbles upon a rape taking place and heroically breaks it up.

 

Convinced of Perry’s good guy status, Dima confides he is a money launderer for the Russian Mafia. Desperate to escape his situation, he gives Perry a memory stick to take back to the UK and hand over to the authorities in exchange for safe passage to the West for Dima and his family. Naively Perry accepts, thinking he’s doing a simple civic duty, but receives a suspicious reception from British Secret Service Officer Hector (Damian Lewis). Against their will, Perry and Gail soon find themselves drawn into a dangerous covert operation to expose corruption between the UK and Russia.

 

This kind of film rarely gets made anymore because it assumes a modicum of intelligence from the viewer. Yes, the plot might be a trifle perplexing in places – The Sloth isn’t convinced we would unhesitatingly accept USB’s from the Russian Mafia – but it has an impressive underlying anger, railing against the willingness of governments to turn a blind eye to blood money. Controlled and understated, it’s far less glossy and far more downbeat than The Night Manager and will probably suffer for comparison, although personally we can’t help feeling the former now seems a little pantomime. With an unusually introspective turn from McGregor, balanced with a roaring performance from Skarsgård, it might not be the very best of the numerous Le Carré adaptations, but it’s still worth a look.

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The Railway Man. Reaching The End Of The Line.

railwayColin Firth is a crackingly good actor who deserves better than to be eternally known as Mr Billowing Shirt And Wet Breeches. The Sloth is pleasingly reminded of this every time we watch one of his movies and The Railway Man is no exception.

Based on a true story, it recounts the experiences of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth) a British WW2 veteran. Geeky Eric, a self-professed ‘railway enthusiast’, lives alone and spends his life riding trains or meeting with his ex-soldier comrades. Till one day, onboard yet another Intercity express, he meets the lovely Patricia (Nicole Kidman desperately trying to look mousey and failing dismally – a miscasting in the only bum note). After a sweetly old-fashioned courtship they marry, but wedded bliss quickly fades when it comes to light that Eric is suffering extreme Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In desperation, Patricia seeks help from Eric’s former comrade Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård), who reluctantly reveals Eric was brutally tortured at the hands of the Japanese. Furthermore, Eric’s antagonist, Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada) is alive and works as a guide showing visitors round the prison where the atrocities took place, a fact Finlay has kept hidden. Deciding Eric must deal with his demons, Finlay reveals Nagase’s existence and leaves Eric to act as he sees fit.

Flitting between present day and wartime flashbacks, it doesn’t shy away from the horrific barbarism that took place. Nor does it water down the slowburning, long term mental toll of such abuse. Eric and his comrades might now be physically healthy but they are mentally shattered, beautifully depicted by Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård.

It struck The Sloth that in most films, the romantic meeting of Eric and Patricia would be the happy ever after ending to Eric’s problems. Here, doubtless more realistically, it’s only the beginning. A sobering tale, but an important one.

UK release 10 January

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