Traitor (Overture Films, PG-13)

film_traitor_sm.jpgThe most successful aspect of Traitor is the way it conveys, through fast cutting from one purported location to another, a sense of just how connected the modern world is.

 

 

 

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Traitor is a good summertime movie: a fast-paced political thriller with an all-star cast, lively soundtrack, some excellent cinematography, good action sequences and a twisty plot which keeps you guessing right to the end. First-time director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (who also wrote the screenplay) clearly understands the conventions of the genre, and Traitor is effective when it stays within those conventions.

Unfortunately, Nachmanoff regularly drops hints that he wants to do something more, such as seriously examine the contradictions of the world we live in and the moral dilemma of trying to live a virtuous life while surrounded by evil. On that score, Traitor does not succeed: the film’s fast-moving plot and over-reliance on familiar character types leaves little room for the examination of philosophical questions.

The story can’t be summarized without giving it away, but here’s the basic setup. Samir Horn (Don Cheadle), a Sudanese-American working as an arms trafficker, is imprisoned in Yemen. Two FBI agents (Roy Clayton, played by Guy Pearce, and Max Archer, played by Neal McDonough) pay a visit which primarily serves the purpose of setting up their characters: Clayton is a decent man and a regular rocket scientist next to Archer, a blowhard who thinks that beating people up is a good way to extract information.

Horn is recruited to radical Islam by a fellow prisoner and quickly rises through the ranks to become both an instructor of young terrorists and a planter of bombs. Pearce and McDonough pursue him around the world (17 cities on three continents are portrayed in the film, according to the press notes, often by stand-ins including locations in Morocco and Canada). The CIA is also involved, and things get murky and murkier.

The most successful aspect of Traitor is the way it conveys, through fast cutting from one purported location to another, a sense of just how connected the modern world is. One minute Horn detonates a bomb at the U.S. embassy in Marseilles, and the next minute FBI staffers are watching the explosion on television in Washington, D.C. Similarly, the porous border controls of the United States and Western Europe provide almost no barrier as Horn and his compatriots enter and move about more or less at will. Traitor may make the best case yet for why the phrase "war on terror" is a singularly unhelpful metaphor.

I’m a big fan of Don Cheadle, and his presence in the lead role gave me hope that he’d be allowed to create a fully rounded Moslem character. No such luck; Samir is just one more cog in the machinery of this film, which wastes no time on niceties like examining the reasons for his actions. Samir is too devout to drink wine, but has no problem selling explosives to people he knows will use them for terrorist purposes? He immigrated to America with his mother at age 12 and apparently achieved a comfortable middle-class life in Chicago, yet chose to return to a particularly troubled and dangerous part of the world? Nachmanoff owes Cheadle, as well as his audience, a more serious effort at examining these contradictions.

Having said that, if you can overlook the stereotypes (which I fear many Americans won’t even notice as such), Traitor provides an entertaining evening at the movies. You’ll have to ignore a few plot holes but the action moves so fast you won’t even think about them until you’ve left the theater. | Sarah Boslaugh

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