Thursday, July 7, 2016

Free State of Jones and Our Kind of Traitor

                                                   Riders on the Storms

                                                       Reviews by Ken Burke
 While there are other options available at my local movie houses that are making much better money or drawing better reviews than the ones I’ve chosen to focus on this week, I’ve already seen Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton; review in our June 23, 2016 posting—still doing marvelously well at the theaters, closing in on the $400 million mark in domestic sales after just 3 weeks) and, based on what I've seen in other reviews, I don’t have that much interest in The Legend of Tarzan (David Yates), The Purge: Election Year (James DeMonaco), Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich)The Conjuring: 2 (James Wan), or Central Intelligence (Rawson Marshall Thurber)—even though I’m always appreciative of any media appearance of Dwayne Johnson, with the hopes that he'll reprise his “people’s eyebrow” look from his WWE days as The Rock—so I’m exercising my Independence Day-weekend freedom (as I’m starting to write this on July 4th, flaunting my status as an unpaid blogger with no responsibility toward an editorial staff or an audience depending on my opening-night-word to decide what to see) in favor of a couple of personal-interest-choices even though they’re not scaring up too much box-office-revenue nor are they remotely-contending for year-end-Top 10-lists (including from me).  Nevertheless, I found each one to be alternately informative or entertaining, so I’ll pass on the results of my lowered-expectations-explorations.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                      Free State of Jones (Gary Ross)
During the American Civil War Newton Knight, a poor farmer/battlefield medic from Jones County, MS, becomes angry with Confederate policies that protect big landowners from fighting their own battles, so he deserts the army, becomes a leader of other displaced poor Whites and escaped slaves, leading a counter-rebellion against the official Rebels.
What Happens: This film is based on events in and around Jones County, MS from 1862-1876 during the horrid Civil War and its atrocious Reconstruction aftermath, focused on Newton—Newt—Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a poor farmer whom we first meet at the 1862 Battle of Corinth, MS (he says he’s a nurse, but some of the biographical accounts I’ve read call him a “battlefield medic”) where we witness the physical-insanity of this ghastly war (Yeah, I know; is there any other kind?) as dead or wounded bodies are strewn everywhere (with a field “hospital” scene that recalls the massive outlay of suffering soldiers in Gone with the Wind [Victor Fleming, 1939] but now in much more [realistic] grotesque detail), limbs are being amputated, rags are soaked in buckets of bloody water, while the overall atmosphere recalls the similar depiction of actual wartime carnage shown in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) but in more low-tech-terms.  Knight encounters his young, draftee, wounded nephew, Daniel (Jacob Lofland), attempts to get treatment for him but it’s delayed to take care of injured officers so the boy dies; this in itself would likely have been enough to cause Newt to take action against official procedures, but his hostile feelings are intensified with the passing of the Confederate “Twenty Negro Law,” which allowed plantation men to exempt their sons from service, 1 son for every 20 slaves owned.  Anger toward this inequity (Jones County had the fewest slaves in the state so their boys were easily conscripted for combat) by Newt’s friend Jasper Collins (Christopher Berry) sends him away from the army, followed by Newt who goes AWOL to bring Daniel (a fictitious amalgamation of actual soldiers given mistreatment by their superiors) back home for burial where he finds that the local army commander, Lt. Barbour (Bill Tangradi), is confiscating whatever he wishes from the already-distraught-farm-populace in the name of keeping food and supplies available for troops in the field.

 As Popeye would say in a tradition seemingly handed down from Newt, “That's all I can stands, I can’t stands no more,” so Knight stays in his home region offering help and protection for his put-upon neighbors against this new “tax in kind” system, which soon makes him a refugee into the local swamps in addition to being an army deserter, but this latest action further forces him to abandon wife Serena (Keri Russell) and their young child so they move for awhile (to Alabama, I think) while Newt joins the company of other deserters and runaway slaves, hiding from the forces of Col. Robert Lowry (Wayne Pére) who’s eager to capture or kill all of them.  While Newt’s no staunch abolitionist, he’s not a bigot either, making friends with one runaway slave in particular, Moses Washington (Mahershala Ali)—another composite character—while becoming infatuated with Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a slave from a nearby-plantation who frequently slips into the swamps to bring food and information to the clandestine community there.  At one point Rebel troops attempt to charge into these marshes but are killed by Knight and his colleagues so they remain in a stalemate with the local authorities until after the South’s defeat in the July 1863 Siege of Vicksburg (MS), which brought enough of an influx of Rebel deserters into the swamps to embolden Knight’s group to take up arms against the local Confederate army, gaining control of a few counties which they declared to be the Free State of Jones, with a U.S. flag raised at Ellisville.  Of course, the Confederacy didn’t ignore this rebellion, with Major Amos McLemore (Thomas Francis Murphy, although the IMDb cast list calls his character Elias Hood; my scribbled notes are no help to resolve this) tasked with quelling this mutiny, but in a carefully-coordinated-ambush at what was assumed to be a church burial many of the Rebel soldiers were killed, including the brutal death of McLemore (Hood?) at the hands of Knight (although that murder is reported to have happened in different circumstances).

 Additional skirmishes between the 2 sides continued until the end of the War in April 1865, so no punishment came to Knight and his many companions for treason against the Confederacy, but they all continued to face hard times long afterwards (just as Union Gen. Sherman had ignored Knight’s plea for assistance during the War), the Reconstruction era in which dubious President Andrew Johnson rescinded the “40 acres and a mule” promise to the now-freed-slaves while their lives were at great risk from the vicious vigilantes of the emerging Ku Klux Klan (who kill Moses as he tries to sign up Black voters).  Newt continues to fight for racial justice after the war, demanding that a group of African-Americans be allowed to cast their ballots despite the hostility by local election officials; further, he had a common-law-marriage with Rachel, even though Serena and their child returned to live with the new couple, as his family(ies) became isolated due to animosity by the local White populace.  That’s as far as we go with Newt, but frequently the story flashes forward to the trial of his great-grandson, Davis Knight (Brian Lee Franklin), in 1948 for defying Mississippi miscegenation law by marrying a White woman, Junie Lee Spradley (Liza J. Bennett); Davis is shown to be descended from the Newt-Rachel-union by the record in the Knight family Bible, thereby considered Black even though he’s only 1/8—enough by those standards, where even a single drop of Black blood was considered sufficient to brand a person as “Negro”.  Davis is given a chance to go free if he’ll agree to a marriage annulment but at the last minute rejects that offer to be carted off to a 5-year-sentence, standing up for the values of his long-ago-ancestor.

So What? The main "what" you’re likely to gain from this film may well depend on how much you accept it as reflecting “true events,” which it claims to do, although there are plenty of folks in and around Jones County that still dispute much of its emotional-essence, although not the primary facts that during the Civil War Knight led a rebellion against the Confederacy, had a common-law-marriage with Rachel, while fathering a good number of children, some White but several others of mixed-race.  A very 
useful summary by Richard Grant, writing in, explores the contradictory information and attitudes about Knight and his actions, with some of the most negative rejections of both the legends of this man and how he’s depicted in this current film clearly coming from descended-advocates of the old Confederacy who deny as much as they can about Knight due to his dual-“abominations” (my term based on the antagonism I’ve read about Newt, not a direct quote from his detractors I consulted) of showing disloyalty to the Old South as well as willingly entering into a sexual relationship with an African-American woman, plus helping secure voting rights for former slaves after the War in a part of the U.S. where such restrictive-civic-participation-strategies remain today (despite attempts to have them declared unconstitutional) to limit the impact of non-White-voters at the polls (such tactics are also employed in Ohio and other Midwestern states, so it’s not just a Southern strategy manifested as a remnant of the Reconstruction/Jim Crow eras when legal segregation simply morphed into de-facto segregation).*  Clearly, in this film Knight is portrayed not so much as an abolitionist as a populist-antagonist to the Confederacy’s landowner-aristocrats whose war was being fought marginally by these slaveholders’ sons (who could be absolved of military service, depending on how many multiples of 20 slaves the fathers owned) but by poor farmers like Knight, forced into hopeless service even as Union forces marched further toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean while farm families back home were being forcibly-stripped of their meager possessions.

 * There’s plenty of supportive testimony—based on public records or personal experience—recounted (2 of these contributors cited below are from Mississippi) in such sources as The Washington Times
(Charleston, SC), along with the (Knoxville, TN) 
News Sentinel, each of which verify disputed aspects of the film such as the U.S. flag being raised over Ellisville courthouse by the Knight faction, the existence of Southern opposition to the Civil War, and the replacement of actual slavery with forced “apprenticeships” for newly-freed African-American children intended to forcibly put them right back on the cotton plantations.  There’s another fact vs. fiction site where you can get further details that show the most important aspects of this film are accurate while the main fabrications are certain characters as composites of their historical referents.  You might also be interested in this video which claims to debunk 4 “Myths about the Civil War”: (1) the War was not about slavery, (2) the White South was monolithic in support of the War, (3) emancipation was the end of slavery, (4) Reconstruction was a “noble failure” that disappeared by the end of the 19th century.  While indulging in this level of research might not be your standard before attending the cinema—just as you wouldn’t be expected to read the novel of Our Kind of Traitor before seeing the movie reviewed farther below—you might be more inspired to do so after a viewing given Ross’ increasing tactic as the story moves on through the years to illustrate the events with period black & white photography and lots of on-screen-graphics to help pack in details that he doesn’t have time to explore; after feeling like you’ve been given a history lesson accompanied by a gritty reconstruction of events, you might want to explore some of these resources and other, more-detailed ones to get a fuller picture of 19th-century-American-turmoil to understand better how it still reverberates today.

 Whether Knight was truly an armed Bernie Sanders of his time rising up against the corrupt powerful, a man who genuinely felt a moral imperative after the War to fight for the rights of freed slaves, and/or an early hero of interracial-equality, or whether he was simply a struggling farmer whose area wasn’t all that populated by slaves anyway (Jones County didn’t support secession because of this situation) so that he found no fundamental reason to be in rebellion for the benefit of others who stood to gain from the creation of the Confederacy (if the carnage of battle didn’t destroy the infrastructure that the rebellion was designed to protect—clearly I’m of the belief that the Civil War was more about maintaining the South’s slave-based-economic-structure than some grand defense of states’ rights, so if you haven’t already tuned me out you might want to consider that choice now in order to find some other review of this film that doesn’t wallow in my left-wing-“hogwash” [again, not a term I think has credibility in this sentence, just used for literary-license-exaggerated-impact]) is likely to be a crucial viewer decision about the merits of this film.  If you respect what Knight (and his descendant in the 1948 miscegenation case) is portrayed as stridently standing up for in this film (equal treatment for all, with no regard for wealth or ethnic heritage) then it will likely be quite compelling for you; if you regard his rejection of the Confederate rebellion as an act of treason by a military deserter and his subsequent embrace of so-called “inferiors” to not be something you can stomach then you’ve probably already been turned off enough by any awareness of Free State of Jones to not go anywhere near it.  This film and its sources remain divisive, even decades later.

 However, if you’re bothered by audiovisual stories that claim to be based largely on fact (with the understanding that any film or TV narrative is going to make some plot-based-concessions to viewer appeal, budget, and running-time-constraints) but then bend what they present too far from solidly-documented-accounts in order to promote a specific-sociopolitical-perspective (such as with Emperor [Peter Webber, 2013; review in our March 16, 2013 posting] or Steve Jobs [Danny Boyle, 2015; review in our October 30, 2015 posting], the former I didn't care for while I find the latter brilliant as an allegory rather than history), then you’ll have to do a lot of research on Newton Knight (there’s plenty to be found, both pro and con, including the brief statements I cited above and the books this film is based on, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War [Victoria E. Bynum, 2001] and The State of Jones [Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, 2009]) to determine what you’re willing to believe about what’s presented here because his story (beyond the basics of his active renunciation of Confederacy affiliation, his counter-rebellion against the Southern regime—which seemingly isn’t even definitively-clear about the proclamation of the “Free State of Jones”—and his many contributions to the genealogy-industry through the many children that he sired) is one of controversy, from those who embrace him as a free-thinker far ahead of his time willing to put beliefs into action to those (even in his own lineage) who reject his legacy as being much more idle-revisionist-desire than truth (tempered further by the ongoing problem any contemporary researcher faces in examining historical records: whether what was transcribed at the time is fact or has been modified [if not created] for purposes that served those “historical recorders,” making such research a constantly-challenging-process, where even multiple accounts of an event can be questioned if they’re all traced back to a single, possibly-questionable source).  One of my Mills College colleagues, an African-American sociology professor, taught for several years in Mississippi but never heard of this “Jones rebellion” nor Newton Knight, so it’s clearly not a part of that state’s history that gets much attention whatever the reasons may be, thereby requiring audiences to draw their own conclusions as to how much this film’s presentation of events may mean to them individually, how impactful the film may be for them.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: As for me regarding Free State of Jones and Newt Knight, well to give you some insight on what sort of patriot I've become over my 6 (pushing 7) decades I spent the night of this July 4th (began writing these reviews that afternoon, knowing it’d take a couple more days before the end-version’s in “print”) watching the final (recorded) episode of the newly-produced-version of TV’s Roots miniseries, followed by various channels’ fiery-fireworks-displays, so you might surmise my sympathies lie with the content of Free State ...  (My marvelous wife, Nina, and I would’ve joined some friends for an outdoor concert and fireworks if she’d not had the sad misfortune of catching whatever stomach virus is floating around our area, but she’s happy to delve into a major dose of genealogy—even if it’s someone else’s family—just to give her a break from the intense explorations she’s been doing lately on her own forebears; in fact [not up for dispute, even from the Daughters of the Confederacy], when we saw Free State … she was hoping to find some clue the county name might have some connection to her own Jones ancestor from Georgia, until I poked around on the Internet to find it’s named after the Revolutionary War-naval-hero John Paul Jones [she hasn’t been able to make a connection to him yet] so now she’s back to her quest of trying to find out what was up in the early 20th century regarding her own great-grandfather, in that over the course of a few censuses/city directories in the 1910s his wife listed herself as either divorced or widowed until such time as he was back with her in 1920 [someday Nina’s just going to forget about the historical research and write a mystery novel to tie up those dangling loose ends].)

 Based on what little I know about the elder Mr. Knight, all I can say about historical fact is that he was obviously a very intense, complex man who probably didn’t fit into his era in Mississippi any more than I did in the 1970s-‘80s in Texas, after which I relocated to the more-hospitable-environs (for me, at least) of wacky northern California (home of the now-even-more-marvelous Golden State Warriors basketballers with the addition of Kevin Durant, along with my faltering-but-beloved-Oakland Athletics, winning for a change on July 4 [followed promptly by losses the last 2 days]) while he had to go on trying to find his place in a state that had little tolerance for his priorities because the other sympathizers of his positions were as rejected and destitute as he was after the war, so he just had to “soldier” on as best he could in chosen isolation on his farm where his 2 separate families were so outcast from the surrounding territory that cousins had to marry each other just to keep the lineage alive.  Maybe most of what’s presented about Newton Knight here is fictional, maybe it’s not, I have no idea (I’m inclined to believe most of it, though).  What I do know is that whatever his actual motivations he seems to be a guy that I could respect for taking action on what he believed, which in this case is a cluster of stances that I support as well.  Maybe this film’s depiction of Knight is skewed to appeal to specific demographics of our contemporary audience (while totally alienating other segments of U.S. society), but if so I’m in league with its interpretation of Newt, easily able to appreciate why a good number of his descendants—especially those from his connection with Rachel—still admire his memory, even as others—including descendants from Serena—dispute who he was, what he did, what he stood for as a very controversial patriarch.

 So, why, you may ask, after giving such positive comments about Free State of Jones have I rated it as worth only 3½ stars?  The problem, I feel, is not in the basic intentions of honoring a man that the filmmakers obviously had respect for but in how that respect is conveyed in a structure that in about 2 hours, 20 min. had to cover several decades of his life, given that there were still lively, notable stories to tell about him during those miserable (from anyone's perspective) years of Reconstruction (just be thankful the filmmakers didn’t try to take his history all the way to the end because he didn’t die until 1922).  Overall, I think there was just too much crammed into the existing plotline, especially with the decision to periodically note the trial of Davis Knight for his “crime” of marrying a White woman (although an important point about this trial goes unmentioned: Davis was freed by the Mississippi Supreme Court, as not having been clearly proven to be “Negro,” so his conviction’s not quite as harsh as the film presents it to be [in fact, he never went to prison],* even as some claim that his freedom was based on Mississippi’s attempt to keep the miscegenation law safe from being declared unconstitutional upon higher appeal [which finally did happen with U.S. Supreme Court decisions by 1967], a useful aspect of this story that would have added some weight to the filmmakers’ perspective); I see how this is an illustration of what Ross and his colleagues want to push as the ongoing discrimination that the Knight family (in their various manifestations) had to endure, but we begin to get overwhelmed with this extended-history-lesson, so if all of these accounts needed to be shown somehow I wish that the Civil War episodes could have been condensed a bit to allow a more-even-presentation of what came after that dreadful conflict for the Knight family rather than rushing in so many episodes of the mid-to-latter-19th century and beyond.  
* Davis’ story is a bit more complicated than the film chooses to show, as well, given that he later divorced the wife he so bravely was willing to go to prison for.  There’s additional info on him here.

 However, as regular readers of my reviews know from this point in the analysis, when my own length gets to be a bit overwhelming, what I really want to do to put this review into final context is to offer you a Musical Metaphor that sums up what the film seems to be saying to me.  In the case of Free State of Jones I just couldn’t avoid The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (from the 1969 album simply named The Band) at GGrgM, with this performance taken from the group’s last show, done at San Francisco’s famed Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976, shown here as a clip from The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978) documentary, its lyrics resonating with Free State ‘s content about how many poor Southerners were “hungry, just barely alive” long before “the winter of ‘65” both because of the war’s ravages and the Confederacy's desperation-sustenance-attempts to maintain their army, as well as the film’s clear siding with the spirit of the Knight-Jones counter-rebellion that resulted in “the bells […] ringing […] And all the people […] singing” in early 1865, although those songs of triumph were soon muted by the harsh responses of the defeated Rebels toward Knight and his ilk during the cruel Reconstruction era, even as this driven man and his extended family essentially retired to his 160-acre compound where they “don’t mind choppin' wood And […] don’t care if the money’s no good” because they could console themselves with familial-intermarriage (including Newt having a few kids with one of Rachel’s daughters [by a previous father] after her death in 1889, another aspect of this not-always-so-noble-“savage”-guy that doesn’t make it into our final script, along with the reality of the size of his brood [9 kids with Serena, 5 with Rachel, despite the film implying there was only 1 of each]).  Nevertheless, Newt Knight apparently went to his grave “proud and brave,” refusing to be “in defeat” like Virgil Kane in this memorable song.
Short Takes (well, sort of short anyway)
                                      Our Kind of Traitor (Susanna White)
A distraught English poetry professor, in Morocco trying to repair his marriage, happens upon a Russian Mafia money launderer who needs a big favor to help protect himself and his family, but after attempting to make a simple delivery to British intelligence agents he suddenly finds himself sucked into the dangerous, deadly world of international espionage.

What Happens: 
Our protagonist is (cleverly-but-intentionally-inappropriately-named) Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor), a London poetry professor (with a great commentary scene, about mid-movie, briefly explicating [T.S. Eliot’s marvelous 1922 poem] 
The Wasteland’s first 
section, "The Burial of the Dead" as being about England’s post-WW I lost souls, which connects nicely to the corrupt-banker/politician-antagonists of this fun movie's current-day-plot), faces a failing marriage (Perry’s affair with a student is largely to blame) to Gail Perkins (Naomie Harris) so they attempt a holiday in Marrakech, Morocco, which fails in both the almost-passionate-bedroom-scene and the barely-able-to-stay-civil-dinner-scene, as she leaves him unfulfilled on both occasions (claiming high-level-lawyer-work-obligations in the 2nd instance, but just abruptly cutting off the attempted lovemaking in the 1st one).  At the restaurant after she leaves, though, he’s drawn into the revels of a boisterous Russian group, whose leader, Dima Krasnov (Stellan Skarsgård)—a guy with a tattoo of his mother on his chest, who spouts the constant catch-phrase of “What the fuck?”—invites Perry for a night of upscale-partying (including at some lavish place with a woman on a horse, along with a seductive other woman putting the moves on the new guest; it’s never clear whether Perry turned down the temptation), followed by invitations for Perry and Gail to an even-more-extravagant-18th-birthday-party the next night for Dima’s daughter, Natasha (Alicia von Rittberg).  While there—against Gail’s misgivings that they attend—Dima reveals he’s the money launderer for the Russian Mafia, run by “The Prince” Petrov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who indiscriminately kills anyone he no longer has use for (as we have seen with an ex-associate and his family in the brutal opening scenes).

 Dima wants to bargain with British MI6 intelligence forces for asylum for him and his loved ones in exchange for info about well-connected-Brits doing business with these well-dressed-thugs, as he’s about to be pushed out when “Prince” completes arrangements for a Cyprus bank to enter the London financial scene (in a bit of a humorous aside toward the end of the movie we find the only reason Perry got sucked into all this is that he was the only Brit available on that initial night, giving us further reason to contemplate the cruel hands that fate can deal us when least expected).

 In fear for Dima’s family, Perry agrees to carry a flash drive full of names to MI6, hoping to keep Gail out of it, but she’s brought in as well by agent Hector Meredith (Damian Lewis) to follow up on the proposed exchange because he needs account numbers, not just names (what he doesn’t tell them is that this is a rogue operation on his part, which has not yet  been authorized by his superiors).  As the deal goes down for Dima to transfer his holdings to “Prince,” Perry and Gail (with Hector in the shadows) travel to Paris, then Bern at Dima’s insistence (meanwhile Hector’s getting no help from home because of the influence of powerful banker Aubrey Longrigg [Jeremy Northam], set to profit handsomely from the new bank so he pressures the MI6 superiors to keep insisting that Dima turn over the account numbers while the terrified Russian keeps insisting that his family first be given asylum).  Suspicions, along with tensions, are growing in all directions, but all of the intended-escapees safely get to an airport where a private jet awaits escape until Hector’s superior calls a halt, requiring only him to return to London for further negotiations while the others are whisked off to a safe house in the French Alps.  It turns out to be not so safe, though, as Natasha makes phone contact with her thug lover (baby Daddy too), leading to an assault attempt which results in the muscular-assassin’s death, reconciliation between Perry and Gail, Perry and Dima off to a rendezvous with an MI6 chopper, while the others head off to another (hopefully, safer) safe house.  Both of the guys are supposed to be flown to London, but Dima insists Perry not go.  Sure enough, the helicopter explodes upon takeoff (with implications that some British bankers and politicians weren’t about to let their lucrative deal be stopped just because of the mere formality of criminal activity).  Later, with Dima’s family safely in England, Perry visits Hector to offer a pistol Dima had previously bequeathed to him; Hector finds a tiny scroll inside with the needed account numbers, leaving the implication that all will finally be right for the forces of justice.

So What? One of the main trepidations I had about seeing this movie is that it’s based on a John le Carré novel, but it's not because I don’t respect his writing rather it relates to the last time I gamely-attempted to follow a complex plotline of his adapted to the big screen which left me befuddled as to even what was happening most of the time (a problem that I found  by attending a 2nd screening was caused by poor audio quality in the 1st theater, recounted in my rambling review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy [Tomas Alfredson, 2011] in our January 6, 2012  posting), so being aware that even when I could clearly hear the dialogue there was still a challenging amount to keep up with until all is revealed at the end, I was a bit hesitant to attempt this sophisticated author transferred to cinema again (besides the overall reviews haven’t been that good—67% positive evaluations at Rotten Tomatoes, 57% at Metacritic—so that enhanced my hesitation [although if I were to be absolutely firm about being chased away from a screening based on the opinions of others I’d never have considered Free State of Jones which truly tanked at both of the sites noted above—53% at MC, a miserable 43% at RT—unjustly-negative as far as I’m concerned, but, then, these other guys/gals usually aren’t as insightful as me anyway]).  As it turned out, though, Our Kind of Traitor was quite manageable as a viewing experience, a pleasant-enough-diversion on a late Saturday afternoon (possibly made more so by seeing it at Livermore, CA’s Vine Cinema & Alehouse where you can bring beer, wine, and/or food-beyond-popcorn to your seat), and a bit of an interestingly-serendipitous-commentary on Russian attempts to destabilize Western-economic-structures along with some British opportunists trying to make independent profits for themselves while going against their national interests, even though the source novel was published in 2010 rather than just after the recent tumultuous Brexit vote.

Bottom Line Final Comments: You can always tell when a movie is having a difficult time getting made, then even more so getting seen, by various indicators; Our Kind of Traitor offers a trifecta of them: it took several production companies to finance it 
(4 in this case), there seems to be no official website promoting it, there’s essentially no useful information about it except a cast list in its Wikipedia entry.  When you add in less-than-stellar (even when 1 of the actors is named Stellan)-reviews, you don’t really expect much in terms of box-office-success based on extensively-positive-word-of-mouth.  I can’t say that I can offer much more encouragement than a reasonably-supportive-position of being pleasantly entertained (especially with the circumstantial-coincidences of the British-Russian themes within the plot) by a story that might seem somewhat preposterous—why in the hell would Perry agree to ever get involved in this sordid business?—unless you can fully convince yourself that you’d never take such a chance regarding the initial data transport let alone the ongoing dangers of getting deeper into these clandestine maneuverings, despite the lure of exotic adventure that such activities involve as well as the guilt that failure to act on your part will likely bring death to people you’ve barely met but still are fellow-human-beingssort of like the old psychology experiment about what choice you’d make with pulling a track-switch for a runaway train that will either kill just someone close to you or a whole carful of strangers.  (Of course, the likely follow-up to … Traitor’s circumstances, once a group as far-flung and dangerous as the Russian Mafia knows that you’ve been involved in helping reprisals against them, is that you and/or your loved ones face certain death, which should be a plausible deterrent against your involvement in these kinds of intrigue-operations, but there’s no indication in this movie that Perry and Gail have a thing to worry about once Dima’s been killed, so your choices may depend on whether you prefer the logic of a fictional world—that you don’t actually inhabit but would prefer to—or one that more closely resembles our daily news stories.)

 As for a concluding Musical Metaphor to put Our Kind of Traitor to rest, I’ll turn a direction I rarely go to bring you one of the few Elvis Presley songs that I really like (most of his hits are pleasantly-palatable to me but only a handful really catch my attention when they pop up on some radio station [I don’t even own an album of his work so I have to depend on the airwaves to periodically remind me of his truly-outsized-presence {pun couldn’t be avoided} in the world's pop-music-pantheon]), “Suspicious Minds” (his 18th and last #1 U.S. single, from 1969, probably available on several of his compilation albums but definitely on the 1999 Suspicious Minds: The Memphis 1969 Anthology 2-disc-release) at  If anything, … Traitor is about the ongoing round-robin of suspicions that every major character has of the others, with MI6 unsure that the Russian has anything substantial to offer in return for a multiple-asylum-demand, Dima unclear if his intel-offer is being taken seriously despite the danger he’s put himself in from Mafia retaliation, and Perry‘s concerns (amplified to a much-higher-level by Gail) that he can’t trust anyone he’s working with because he’s always having to ask himself the same question that arose when that woman started flirting with him back in Marrakesh: “What have I gotten myself into?”  Admittedly, this song’s lyrics are about a romantic relationship endangered by one lover’s inability to fully trust the other one, but if you accept the open-interpretation-premise of my Musical Metaphor concept then you can see how lyrics such as “We’re caught in a trap I can’t walk out […] Why can’t you see What you’re doing to me When you don’t believe a word I say? […] Here we go again Asking where I’ve been […] We can’t go on together With suspicious minds” can be seen as relevant to the dramatic tensions of this engaging-but-not-vital-movie (that is, depending on what Putin’s plans are now toward working with or destabilizing the increasingly-isolated-from-Europe-U.K.), even as we’re left wondering if any of these characters can honestly say “honey, you know I’ve never lied to you.”
 No lie from me, I enjoyed Our Kind of Traitor (and this dynamic-melodic-flow from Elvis) with an encouragement that you might feel the same way as long as you’re not expecting too much beyond grand locations for the various plot episodes, well-crafted tension, and a nice twist at the end.
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Here’s more information about Free State of Jones: (7:49 featurette on the film, with interview commentary from actor Matthew McConaughey and director Gary Ross, along with counter-commentary from Southerners who say the film’s content is mostly—if not entirely—fictional, countered further from a couple of Newt Knight’s descendants who defend his accomplishments)

Here’s more information about Our Kind of Traitor: (oddly enough, I couldn’t find an official website for this movie so here’s the one at IMDb) (4:45 interview with protagonist actor Ewan McGregor) along with (5:08 interview with somewhat-antagonist actor Stellan Skarsgard, although you have to reconstruct the questions—which are hard to hear from the interviewer—from his answers) where both of them admit their tennis inabilities

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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