The Good Traitor begins on April 9th, 1940 when Nazi Germany invaded Denmark with the expectation of immediate and unconditional surrender. As the government submits to Hitler’s demands, Denmark’s ambassador to the United States, Henrik Kauffman (Ulrich Thomsen) feels torn. Though he loves his home country, he remains concerned that he will be forced to live under Nazi regime. Nervous about his fate, he opts to declare the emabassy as independent of Denmark and sets wheels in motion that could potentially restore freedom to his homeland.
Directed and co-written by Christina Rosendahl, The Good Traitor is a fascinating story of self-protection, selfishness and, somehow, honour? In Kauffman, Rosendahl has much to explore as he both manipulates and sits in his own mistakes. As a political thriller, the pacing of the film feels like a slow burn but rarely drags its feet either. Choosing to emphasize Kauffman’s dealings in the United States, Rosendahl gives the film a unique style as the ramifications of the war feel immediate yet also seem distant at the same time.
Featuring a solid cast, the film features some interesting performances across the board. However, the key trifecta of Thomsen, Denise Gough and Zoe Tapper anchor the piece overall. Caught between love, lust and overwhelming odds, the three actors work very well together onscreen. Thomson and Tapper have some genuine chemistry even if it never comes to fruition onscreen. At the same time, Thomson and Gough work very well together as a quasi-form of Macbeth and his Lady, struggling to connect at home but pulling the strings of those around them together.
The most interesting aspect of Traitor is the manner in which it blurs the lines between right and wrong. Unlike other war movies that highlight their heroes as men who see the situation in black and white, Kauffman’s portrayal features far more shades of grey. Fearing a return home under Nazi regime, Kauffman’s actions stem from his own self-interests. While claiming that his intentions are honourable publicly, he has as much to gain from his deals as he does to lose. (What’s more, his wandering eye serves as another example of his flawed moral character.)
However, at the same time, Kauffman’s decisions absolutely leave an impact that helps change the world. Through his negotiations with the United States, he not only garners support for his home country but many other embassies as well, offering them financial assistance when they’ve been cut off during the war. As a result, despite the questionable nature of his motives, Kauffman somehow remains heroic within the history books.
In this way though, Traitor also highlights the brokenness of those we hold in high regard. Due to their broken humanity, the character of our heroes is rarely as altruistic as we believe them to be. Like Kauffman, the men and women we look up to struggle with the same issues and flaws that we all do. However, even if we choose to view them through the lens of honour, that does not erase their faults. Like Kauffman, all of our heroes have cracks in their armour.
Filled with political intrigue, The Good Traitor is an engaging film that fleshes out the history books. While we usually associate the war effort with the soldiers on the field, Traitor shows the backroom dealings and negotiations that also helped bring victory for the Allies. At the same time, the film is also content to show the character flaws in its heroes in ways that somehow make it more relatable as well.
The Good Traitor is available on Tuesday, April 13th, 2021 on VOD.