“Our Kind of Traitor” boasts a series of onscreen titles that signal a certain kind of thriller — one that hops from Moscow to Marrakesh to London to Paris to Bern to the French Alps with the clockwork regularity of a James Bond film. But the hero of this dutiful yet effective adaptation of a 2010 John le Carré novel is no gunslinging international man of mystery. Rather, he is a mild-mannered British professor of poetry with a soft spot for the bullied and a notable lack of firearms training. When the aptly named Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) finally does get hold of a pistol, only toward the end of the film, he picks it up like it smells funny.
The fact that the person handing it to him — a loudly effusive, tattooed Russian thug on the lam named Dima — is played by Stellan Skarsgard contributes significantly to the film’s pleasures. Skarsgard’s accent might not be utterly convincing, but he seems to be having so much fun with the part of a money launderer for the mob who has handled as many handguns as deposit slips that it’s easy to forgive a slippery vowel or two.
The strange alliance between Perry and Dima begins in Morocco, where the Russian has befriended the vacationing Perry and his girlfriend, Gail (Naomie Harris of “Skyfall” and “Spectre”), handing the academic a thumbdrive with instructions to turn it over to MI6, the British intelligence agency, when the couple gets home. It seems that Dima — who has been marked for a bloody purge by his new boss (Grigoriy Dobrygin) — is seeking asylum for himself and family, in exchange for information linking a high-ranking British official named Longrigg (Jeremy Northam) to the Russian mafia. Perry’s willingness to do what most others would say “heck no” to speaks more to his weakness than his bravery. It also imparts a slight whiff of preposterousness that the film, for the most part, manages to outrun.
In keeping with the film’s brisk pace, it isn’t long before Perry has made it his private mission to help Dima in ways that go far beyond the Russian’s original request. An MI6 agent (Damian Lewis) begins to assist Perry, motivated by his own personal vendetta against Longrigg. Director Susanna White, who was nominated for Emmy Awards for the television miniseries “Jane Eyre” and “Generation Kill,” keeps the tension just taut enough, as Russian hoodlums pursue Dima and his family and the British bureaucracy scrambles to obtain passports for them.
No, there’s nothing earth-shaking about “Traitor.” No topical reverberations or thorny moral quandaries. Just a respectful appreciation for the old-fashioned political thriller, in an adaptation by screenwriter Hossein Amini (“Drive”) that knows how to get the job done. There’s little of the poetry that Perry teaches in the script, but the story’s mechanics are solid.
R. At area theaters. Contains violence, obscenity, drug use, sex, including rape, and nudity.