Richard sits in on the CTV NewsChannel to talk about the big releases in theatres, including “The Legend of Tarzan,” starring Alexander Skarsgård as the Lord of the Jungle and Margot Robbie as Jane, Steven Spielberg’s latest, “The BFG” and the John le Carré thriller “Our Kind of Traitor,” starring Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Damian Lewis.
By default “Our Kind of Traitor” will probably be listed under the “thriller” section on Netflix and elsewhere simply because it was written by spymaster John le Carré but don’t be fooled. Labelling this Ewan McGregor film a thriller simply because of le Carré’s involvement is like calling “One Hour Photo” because Robin Williams took the lead.
McGregor and Naomie Harris are Perry Makepeace and Gail Perkins, an English couple on romantic holiday in Marrakesh. When she leaves him alone in a restaurant Perry meets flamboyant Russian oligarch Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) who takes the uptight poetry professor to a wild party resembling something out of a Fellini film. Inside a large mansion half naked women ride horseback and there’s enough drugs and booze to make Keith Richard do a double take. It’s a wild night that goes on until the sun rises, followed by a tennis match at Dima’s expansive villa.
Perry and Gail meet Dima’s family and nothing seems too odd until later that night at a cocktail party when the Russian asks Perry to smuggle a flash drive filled with very sensitive banking information to London. Turns out Dima is a money launderer whose usefulness to the mob has come to an end. He fears they may kill him and his family and his way out is to get the flash drive to the MI6 in return for safe passage to England.
Sounds like a plan until MI6 agent Hector (Damian Lewis) is less than entirely enthusiastic about the whole situation. Thus begins the intrigue, what little there is of it here, with Perry channelling his inner James Bond to become a Citizen Spy.
From buttoned down poetry professor to le Carré hero in a matter of days. It’s a leap, a gaping chasm even, which requires a well-oiled suspension of disbelief. The main problem is that the movie doesn’t offer up many clues as to why this couple would risk everything to come to the aid of a man they barely know. It’s a well-worn cinematic staple, the everyman as hero, but here it falls flat.
“I’ve BLEEPED up your life Professor,” says Dima. “Why are you still here?”
This would have been a good time for screenwriter Hossein Amini to offer up some kind of rational explanation as to why Perry has laid it all on the line. Instead we get this: “I’ve no idea.”
The rest of “Our Kind of Traitor” is about as riveting as that answer. Skarsgård’s boisterous performance is worth a look and Lewis is multi-layered enough to carry the whole thing but they are inexplicably pushed to the background behind the bland leads.
“A Most Wanted Man” is one of the trio of movies Philip Seymour Hoffman had in the can when he passed away last February. The spy thriller, based on a novel by John le Carré, is his final leading role and it is difficult to watch the film without a sense of dark foreboding.
One throwaway moment that has more resonance now takes place in a bar. Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) offers Annabel (Rachel McAdams) a cigarette.
“It’s OK,” she says. “I’ve given up.”
“Good luck with that,” he replies with the sardonic tone of someone who has tried and failed to let go of their vices. Blink and you’ll miss it, but taken in context his reaction is chilling, as is CIA agent Martha Sullivan’s (Robin Wright) line, “Even good men have a little bit of bad in them… and that little bit could kill you.”
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, of course, but these references to addiction and mortality, no matter how subtle, add pathos to an already poignant performance.
Hoffman plays Bachman, the head an anti-terrorism unit working in Hamburg, Germany. “Not many people know about it,” he says, “even less like it.” He works deep undercover with a small team, but this is no high flying spy style adventure. Instead, it’s a spy story about money transfers, private bankers (Willem Dafoe), a human-rights attorney (who Günther “a social worker for terrorists,” played by McAdams), a respected Muslim academic and philanthropist (Homayoun Ershadi), and Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee who might be worth $10 million. As he follows the money Bachman must untangle the web of intrigue in just 72 hours or the German police will upend his plans.
Looking like an unmade bed, Hoffman plays Günther as a hard drinking, chain smoking, heavy-breathing anti-James Bond. His one action scene involves walking across a bar ton punch someone in the face. The thrills here come from his methodical piecing together of the clues and his manipulation of the personalities involved. It’s a terrific performance in which you can feel the weight of the world in every decision he makes, every step he takes. It’s just a shame that the movie seems to value the minutiae over its characters.
Hoffman shines, but others aren’t given the opportunity. Wright has a handful of scenes but is primarily a plot point and not a rounded character. Dobrygin succeeds in looking mournful and Dafoe, while believable as a shady banker, isn’t given enough to do. Only McAdams as the idealistic but conflicted lawyer and the city of Hamburg—whose suitably seedy underbelly is as well developed a character as is on display here—keeps up with Hoffman.
“A Most Wanted Man” features a measured but intense performance from Hoffman, but the film itself isn’t as interesting as he is.