Traitor (2008) dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Starring: Don Cheade, Guy Pearce, Said Taghmaoui, Neal McDonough, Jeff Daniels
Combine the Bourne series with "The Departed" and a hint of “Day of the Jackel” do it on half the budget and you have this decent the international thriller – “The Traitor”.
Don Cheadle is Samir Horn, an American born in Sudan, who we first see selling weapons to a terrorist group. When the deal is monitored and taken down by FBI agents, Samir comes face-to-face with his adversary early. Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) is a tough as nails jet-setting agent, someone who uses his wits more than his fists or his gun to get the job done. Roy is sent to prison, and while inside he connects with a muslim terrorist Omar (Said Taghmaoui). Together they escape from prison and begin a mission of jihad against America.
It’s doesn’t take long for Roy to pick up Samir’s trail and by using intelligence gathering, surveillance and all the wonderful technological tools at his disposal it’s a race to find Samir and his terrorist cell before the U.S. is hit with another colossal tragedy.
From it’s singular concept, “Traitor” was fighting an unhill but not unworthy battle. “Traitor” is built around the character of Samir, played with typical integrity by Don Cheadle. He’s a devout Muslim, torn between his allegiances to his country of birth Sudan, his adopted country he grew up in, the United States, and his religion. In a flashback we see his parents get killed in some kind of attack. We assume it might have been an American attack, because in the present he’s become a morally ambiguous mercenary, working for ‘the other side’. Yet, Samir is honourable and devoted to abiding by the righteous doctrines of his religion.
Why would an audience want to root for a terrorist? As the film progresses, Samir’s demeanour suggests he may not be what he seems. A clever plot turn occurs which is not unexpected but one which enlightens these ambiguities. But since films about the Middle East and the war on terror never ever succeed it doesn’t relieve the work the film needs to do to win it’s audience.
But whether it wins its audience or not doesn’t really matter, Nachmanoff succeeds in pushing us deep into the story to care for Samir. The character film takes on the face of a thriller with a few actions scenes, some explosions and good deal of global hopping. In fact, the shear number of locations the film moves through may break some kind of record – in 100mins we see: Washington, Chicago, Madrid, Toronto, Halifax, London, Marseilles, Yemen, Afghanistan and more.
It’s probably three or four places too many, and it seems like an effort to over compensate for a lack of traditional action set pieces the thriller genre demands. But do we really need to see another Bourne rip-off? So instead of falling into the trap of a high concept thriller like “Vantage Point”, or relying on eye-ball crunching action like “Quantum of Solace” the characters of “Traitor” are refreshing.
At the film's heart is the moral dilemma of Samir to do what is right for his country and what it right for him as a devout person. Chess is a frequent metaphor for this dilemma and so the idea of sacrificing pawns to win the game causes much internal conflict.
“Traitor” continually weighs it’s standard cat-and-mouse international pulp thriller ingredients with Cheadle’s internal conflict which is taken very seriously. The latter wins out, which saved the film from what should have been a straight-to-DVD release. Enjoy.
“Traitor” is available on DVD from Alliance Films in Canada