While on holiday in Marrakech, an ordinary English couple, Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris), befriend a flamboyant and charismatic Russian, named Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who unbeknownst to them is a kingpin money launderer for the Russian mafia. When Dima asks for their help to deliver classified information to the British Secret Services, Perry and Gail get caught in a dangerous world of international espionage and dirty politics. The couple is propelled on a perilous journey and to an alliance with the British Government via a ruthless and determined MI6 agent named Hector (Damian Lewis). (Courtesy: eOne Films Canada)
The first thing you’ll notice is the film’s muted color pallette which definitely set the tone early on. From the overall look and the intense soundtrack, the film is pretty dark but the story doesn’t always justify it. The story starts off rather slowly which may leave certain viewers, or at least those who haven’t read the book by John le Carré in which this film is based, confused. It wasn’t until Perry (McGregor) and Gail (Harris) met an eccentric Russian named Dina (Skarsgård) that the story actually started and even then, it still took a while to figure things out since the plot depended on Dina and Skarsgård’s accent took some getting used to. The couple’s meeting with Dina was unfortunately under the best of circumstances seeing that they had problems of their own with them not being there for each other. These problems did not last long, however, as they became nonexistent very quickly as they just went along with what was happening.
The main reason Dina asked for their help was that he believed his and his family’s lives were in danger because of the information which he is privy to. His plan was to try and exchange this information with the British authorities in order to gain asylum for him and his family. The problem with that was that we never believed that he was ever in danger since the film failed to establish how his knowledge ever posed a threat to anyone and those who were supposedly threatened by his knowledge. The only thing we had to go on was some closeups of bad guys along with intense music. Doing these would have added some more credence to the plot. Despite all of that, the plot was still somewhat engaging through all of its twists and turns, albeit cliche and predictable ones. It was easy to get invested in whether or not he and his family will escape.
Whether or not they did depended on an MI6 agent named Hector (Lewis). He was invested in this case because he believed Dina’s knowledge was vital in exposing wrongdoings occurring within London. He was determined to pursue this even though he may or may not have had more personal motives in doing so. The film poorly established this aspect as well. His superiors did not necessarily believe in Dina’s usefulness as much as Hector did so he had to face some opposition. While he was guided more by personal motives which made him come off as snobby and selfish, his character evolved in a mostly cliche way. Because of the film’s focus on Dina and the couple, it never went far enough with Hector which made his subplot lack credence as we were never invested in his motives or intentions.
The main problem with the film is its lack of depth in its story and characters. The plot focuses on Dina’s predicament and the couple who were pulled into it but there wasn’t much more to them beyond that as it provided no further explanation whatsoever. This made for very boring characters all around. Perry and Gail were supposedly normal type people guided by wanting to do the right thing, at least for Perry, who were pulled into an extraordinary situation where they had to almost become spies. They definitely showed none of their normal-ness here but the whole premise was contrived to begin with. Dina’s portrayal was a caricature bordering on offensive and we never had the chance to get invested in Hector.
The performances were okay and serviceable. The characters were boring but it wasn’t necessarily the actors’ fault as the writing could have been better. Plot aside, the dialogue was not always great. McGregor and Harris were believable as a couple but lacked chemistry. Skarsgård was horribly miscast as Dina but still tried his best with what he had, bringing a surprising amount of energy to the role but his bad accent made things difficult. Lewis was also okay with what little he had.
Overall, this was a decent thriller with a decent atmosphere and performances but just lacked any depth in its story and characters.