Susanna White's Our Kind of Traitor, adapted by Hossein Amini, doesn't have the vast cast or ornate story of other John le Carré adaptations, but even one richly drawn figure can buy a lot of suspense. The plot is built around the very idea of charisma. During a vacation in Marrakech, Perry (Ewan McGregor), a forlorn English academic, is approached by boisterous Russian businessman Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who spends long nights partying and drinking thousand-dollar bottles of champagne. Their meeting, however, turns out to have been not entirely coincidental. Dima is a veteran money launderer for the Russian Mafia, and he's about to lose his empire — and most likely his life— to a brutal new kingpin called the Prince who is consolidating power and slaying anyone who gets in the way. So Dima wants to escape to safety in the U.K., and is prepared to give up the Prince. Perry chooses to help Dima get in touch with MI5, even though he himself knows nothing about espionage.
That sounds promisingly Hitchcockian, but since the source is le Carré, the story winds up being more about budget approvals, account numbers and government oversight than international conspiracies or last-minute escapes (though one of those is quite effective, marvelously staged by White). But our investment in the characters holds it together. Dima is a wonderful creation: a tattooed, garrulous bear of a man. The mostly reactive Perry is a typical spy story protagonist: the wrong man in the wrong place at the right time. But McGregor brings depth to the role. This is a classic matchup, and Our Kind of Traitor is at its best when it lets them dance.