This review was originally published in The National.
SWOOPING in just in time to try and fill the gap left by hit BBC series The Night Manager is this decent, if unremarkable, politically-charged spy thriller based on the best-selling novel by John le Carré.
Ewan McGregor stars as Perry Makepeace, a British teacher who is on holiday with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) in Marrakech. One night in a swanky hotel bar they meet and befriend a flamboyant Russian named Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) whom they soon discover is actually the top money launderer for the Russian mafia.
At one of his parties Dima implores Perry to help deliver information to the British government which would cripple his organisation, in exchange for safe passage for his family who would surely be killed if the mob found out. This puts them all in the path of Hector (Damian Lewis), an M16 operative desperate to take down the Russian mob at all costs and prove that much of their money has been funnelled into the UK via corrupt politicians and bankers that have proven hitherto impossible to expose.
Although there’s nothing spectacular about the way this particular le Carré adaptation goes about things , there’s something enjoyably old-fashioned about it nonetheless. Indeed, if it weren’t for all the modern technology and references to the state of the economy, it could easily be set in the Cold War. The paranoia of that era so frequently mined for intrigue over the years permeates the film, as does the Bond-esque globe-trotting escapades which afford it a swift pace and varied visual palette.
The fairly star-studded cast are all solid, with a slippery Lewis being an entertaining highlight. But it’s just a shame that, despite a perfectly good performance by McGregor, we’re saddled with a fairly bland and uninvolving lead character to steer us through this murky world. It doesn’t help that it’s never quite explained why Perry would go to such lengths to help a man he barely knows in a world he doesn’t understand.
The film doesn’t devote quite enough time to showing how suddenly being pitched into this world of mob danger and political espionage affects the marriage of an ordinary couple and as a result it feels quite shallow and unconvincing.
True political and moral complexity is not exactly in abundance here but thanks to slick direction by Susanne White (Nanny McPhee Returns) and a fairly taut script by Hossein Amini (Drive, The Two Faces of January), there’s enough to satisfy anyone with even a passing interest in the spy genre.