Stellan Skarsgård did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dima in Our Kind Of Traitor.
é adaptation about an English School Teacher and his wife being caught up in the dark world of illegal finances after accepting to do a favor for a strange man.
Our Kind of Traitor seems kind of strange in that the two actual leads of the English teacher Perry MacKendrick (Ewan McGregor) and his wife Gail (Naomie Harris) are the most bland characters in the film. There are two supporting characters though who seem like they should be the leads the first being Stellan Skarsgård's as the strange man with information. Stellan Skarsgård is an actor probably best known for his long list of shady supporting roles from one despicable man to the another. This seems like that may be the case again as his character of Dima randomly appears in a bar and approaches McGregor's Perry. Skarsgård is an actor who you just can't naturally trust. Skarsgård even sets up his Dima a little differently than usual, playing essentially a bro-russian, as he insists that Perry come to a party with him. Skarsgård's always has that certain sinister glimpse in his eye though, that suggests there's gotta be something up. Intentional or not, I'd say intentional, Skarsgård's very presence crafts a certain tension early on in these scenes as it seems like there's something afoot even if it is hard to know what.
Dima seems harmless enough, and a funny thing is Skarsgård wins you over a bit too just as he does Perry. His whole larger than life enjoyment of life becomes a little endearing after you've spent enough time with him. After he gets to know Perry a bit better though he reveals himself to be more than meets the eye, though not in the way a Stellan Skarsgård character generally is. Suddenly Skarsgård changes gears severely as Dima explains his dire situation, where he will be forced to transfer all of his funds to his old boss's son before he and his family will be killed. Skarsgård manages this switch incredibly effectively as he brings that fear in his voice and eyes as he pleads with Perry for help. Skarsgård in doing so also explains a bit of just how big he is the rest of the time, showing that Dima is very much putting on an act as though he blissfully unaware what is going to happen to him very soon. Skarsgård manages in just a few moments to grant a very real urgency to the film by managing to make Dima surprisingly sympathetic in such short order.
Again the film does seem just slightly curious in that Skarsgård should be the lead of the film, it is his character who is the most important, yet he is indeed "supporting" the far less interesting Perry. Skarsgård though is still essentially required to do everything a lead must do just in far more limited screen time and perspective. In that we get a quick snippet of Dima's past when he was recruited into the Russian mob, now this is perhaps one of the easier elements to provide as Skarsgård does always have that duplicitous look about him. This continues further though as we are only given a slight sense of Dima's relationship with the man who intends to kill him and his family. This is basically all given to a single scene where Dima mocks the man with a story about when the man was as a boy. Now Skarsgård is great in the scene doing so well to portray the vicious hatred Dima has for the man while coating with just enough of a still semi-pleasant facade on the surface. Again just a snippet yet Skarsgård in that snippet conveys wholly the sense of disdain and betrayal Dima has suffered given that he was a real friend to the man's father. Skarsgard heavy lifting continues also to establish a real sort of connection between Dima and Perry as well. He pulls it off though, again through so little, but in his direct interactions Skarsgård conveys so effectively the man's gratitude to him, bringing a real warmth as he thanks him again and again for his help. The main crux of the story though is Dima attempting to save his family by trading inside information to the British government. It is with this that Skarsgård is the beating heart of the film. The whole sense of real desperation and concern is realized so powerfully by Skarsgård's performance. He handles it well by showing the internalization of it when Dima is attempting to keep his facade up, but is incredibly moving when he reveals just the increasingly fearful man who who will do whatever it takes to save his family. It may be a little odd how Skarsgård has to fulfill so many aspect of the role so swiftly, yet he does so brilliantly. This is a great performance. If we did not believe Dima and his struggle the film would have faltered entirely. Skarsgård elevates it through his honest emotional performance.
In the early scenes it appears as though Hector is very much a man with just a plan of action that he intends initiate with cold efficiency. Lewis's performance is rather marvelous in just making this style of Hector quite charismatic in sort of strange way reminiscent even of Gary Oldman as Smiley in Tinker Tailor, in that there is just something so remarkable about watching the man work. Hector though isn't quite that powerful though as he goes about some risky maneuvers in order to get the information he needs. Lewis's performances is very astute in the way he plays within this sort of stricture that he has set up with Hector. Lewis manages to play just within the margins of this, in just a slight turn of the mouth or a just a small movement in his eyes. In these early scenes there is the hint of the smallest desperation in voice, covered up by his usual assurance, as Hector decides to go with the mission despite not receiving proper clearance for it. It is rather fascinating to watch Lewis work here because he never does break out of the refinement of the character, yet as soon as conveys the frustrations in Hector towards his boss at not being able to pursue the case he doesn't seem cold after all. Lewis's work in itself has this efficiency in emotion, since you always understand how Hector is feeling even though he technically never raises his voice beyond a certain point nor does he really lose his composure.
He has this precision that it so captivating to watch. So many of the highlights belong to Lewis. Even in some exposition particularly in the scene where Hector lashes out against the amorality of the business he is trying to prevent, Lewis makes it absolutely engrossing through his dynamic delivering. He infuses with such a real intensity, a real outrage, yet still so calm all the same. There is just a bit of explanation to further motivations, really just one scene, where Hector explains how he believes his own son was targeted by one of the corrupt officials he's trying to take down. Again just in the margins does Lewis reveals the sadness, only in them does he, his Hector is never emotional yet you always understand him. There is a scene at the end of the film where Lewis is just examining and object and finds something important. Silent scene that could be nothing in the wrong hands. Lewis reveals all of Hector's thoughts just through the slightest glimpse of joy, making a far more satisfying scene than it would have been otherwise. As with Skarsgård Lewis does so much heavy lifting within the film to elevate past just a very routine thriller. Although I won't say the film quite completely escapes that qualifier, their work far surpasses it.