Dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Don Cheadle turns in an excellent performance in “Traitor,” the most recent entry in what seems to be a perpetual train of spy thrillers going through theaters. However, Jeffery Nachmanoff’s film distances itself from the slew of Bourne knock-offs through some solid performances and by introducing several religious, ethical and political wrinkles into a fairly complex fabric.
Cheadle plays Samir Horn, an American citizen born in Sudan before becoming a special operative in the U.S. Army, who has evidently returned to his Muslim roots and switched loyalties when we see him supplying explosives to an international terrorist organization in the first sequence.
The deal is busted by FBI Agent Clayton (Guy Pearce), landing Horn in a Yemen prison, which leads to his deepening involvement in the terrorist underworld.
It is in this middle section that the movie really finds its substance with its in-depth look into some of the more personal operations of a terrorist cell, which successfully lends a distinctively human element to figures normally portrayed as one-dimensional fanatics.
Specifically the character of Omar, Horn’s closest friend within the cell, is given a surprisingly indepth character arc over the course of the film. It is the interactions between Horn and Omar that makes the film succeed on a much more emotional level – something that other films in the genre most often either opt not to attempt or just fail at conveying.
Eventually it becomes clear that we cannot be sure of Horn’s true intentions and this is where the film explores more ethical issues: focusing on the potential duality of its title, the multiple faces of each religion and whether or not the ends justify the means, no matter what.
While exploring these issues, it is strongly emphasized that Horn is a devout practitioner of Islam regardless of his true allegiance. This fact is what really gives the religious dilemmas their punch. The focus on the human elements of this film is certainly not meant to take away from the gritty intensity that the film achieves almost throughout the runtime.
Ultimately, the film generally succeeds, relying on the strength of its actors to effectively convey the key points, while maintaining a balance with some solid action sequences that are on par with some of the better recent spy movies. Cheadle handles the lead role excellently, delivering even when there is little or no dialogue with which to work. Said Tahmaoui, as Omar, complements him nicely and Guy Pearce gives an even-keeled and understated performance, pulling off a mild Southern accent effectively.
This certainly isn’t the greatest piece of filmmaking to come out in a while. It has its flaws, but overall It was a solid film that was effective where it wanted to be and delivered more of a human element than your average action movie. It may not be winning any Oscars, but I would certainly recommend it if you want to catch a matinée on a lazy afternoon.