Wednesday, August 27, 2008


“I need to know the truth.”

Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) is a bomb maker, a devout Muslim, and a terrorist. Or is he? Based on a story from wild & crazy Steve Martin (yeah, that Steve Martin) comes a suprisingly smart tale about the lengths people will go to both commit and stop terrorism. If you were expecting a good action film you will get it, but oh so much more as well.

Cheadle is excellent in a role that has to carry the film, but not give away too much too soon. This is one of those films I’d advise you not to watch the trailer which tells a bit too much of the plot.

So what is the plot? The simple explanation is it’s about a man cut-off and immersed in a complicated world that expects several things from him - not all of which he’s comfortable delivering.

After being captured for selling bombs Samir comes to the attention of both the CIA (Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough) and a terrorist leader (Aly Khan) and his most trusted associate (Said Taghmaoui). Both sides have plans for Samir, but whose side is he really on?

What follows is a whirlwind tale across the globe which should feel fractured and jumbled, but the pace and flow of the story is managed by writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff with expert skill. The film will (and has) draw comparisons to the Jason Bourne films, but this one takes things up a notch. Yes there is action and suspense, but at the heart Traitor is a drama which is moved forward not simply by plot and twists, but by the emotions and struggles of its characters.

There are several important secondary characters introduced throughout the course of the film including a wide range of Americans of all races and creeds willing to give up their lives to further the terrorist cause. Unlike many Hollywood action films the film isn’t anti-terrorism as much as it is about examining the appeals, the reasons behind, and the great costs, involved in such activities.

Three of the supporting characters need to be mentioned. The first is Jeff Daniels in a small but vital role to the plot, and the second is in Samir’s long lost love Chandra played by Archie Panjabi. Both provide different aspects of the story in relation to Samir, and in the investigation by the CIA. The final worthy of special mention is Said Taghmaoui the terrorist Samir gets to know best over the course of the film. He, like Samir, is more than he seems with his own conflicting beliefs and doubts. These aren’t your regular Hollywood version of terrorists, but people with deep beliefs about doing what needs to be done to further their own interests.

As I said, the film is character not plot driven, but it also provides many twists and turns along the way for those who enjoy films that like to keep the audience guessing. And this film includes a twist so good you don’t want to miss it!

I do have one small quibble with the film, which is impossible to discuss without giving way, way too much away, but it involves an epilogue scene unnecesarily tagged onto the end of the film. I understand it’s purpose, but it’s the one instance where the film feels forced. But thankfully that’s my only major complaint.

Traitor is one of those films that not only succeeds, but succeeds so well you begin to expect more from the genre. It reminds us you can make a thriller and spy story that is as much about people, emotions, and ideas as it is about explosions and body counts. The film looks at the rationale behind terrorism, and makes some astute observations about the lengths which are taken in the name of stamping it out. It’s not a political film, but it is a smart one. And a smart action/thriller at the end of summer is something we should all be thankful for.

No comments: