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Traitor movie poster


Genre: Action, Drama
Rated: PG-13
Directed by:
Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Saïd Taghmaoui, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough
Released by: Overture Films

In Short: Don Cheadle brings a spark of heart to a sleek but routine terrorism film.

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Tepid Terrorism
A Competent Thriller With Nothing to Offer but Itself

Though for many it may feel like yesterday, it's been almost seven years since the attacks of September 11th inexorably altered the psychological and political landscape of our country and the world at large. During those seven years, filmmakers have done their best to practice due-diligence around the issue, with everything from left-leaning documentaries to right-leaning action flicks, but have more often sought to explore both sides and hence appeal to the widest audience. How successful the films have been is debatable, but over time the number of them has certainly piled up. That fact alone might be enough to undercut the success of the latest terrorism-themed thriller, Traitor, a film that more or less hit all the right notes just a few years too late, causing audience fatigue to undeniably set in.

The story opens with American arms dealer Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) finding himself tossed in a dusty Yemeni prison while attempting to sell explosives to a terrorist group. While there, he bonds with fellow prisoner Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) over their shared religious convictions, who in turn assists his escape and initiates him into the cell. Samir's U.S. military connections have not gone unnoticed by FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce), who marks him as the chief suspect for a major plot that the agency discovers is about to go down on American soil. It should come as little surprise that Samir's true allegiances might not be what they seem.

Don Cheadle and Jeff Daniels in Traitor
Don Cheadle and Saïd Taghmaoui in Traitor

Anyone who has seen the Showtime series Splinter Cell will find much of this film quite familiar, particularly with its straightforward approach and restrained scope. There are no red state/blue state arguments or shady politicians, though issues of religious conviction ultimately connect each of its three main characters, all of whom are expertly portrayed: Cheadle is by far the most expressive and sympathetic of the three, and carries the film's emotional weight almost entirely on his own; Pearce takes a more subtle route with his southern Baptist FBI agent character but melts seamlessly into the role, while Taghmaoui portrays the sad-eyed, dangerous man in a character that has more or less defined his career. Someone please cast this guy in a comedy.

The real problem here is that Traitor's matter-of-factness ultimately leaves us with little more than a faint feeling of unease, as if it's just another tale among hundreds like it, some with happy endings, but more without. And don't expect to come out of the film (which could have easily been twenty minutes shorter) with much in the way of either catharsis or heady topics of conversation. You may simply find yourself asking whether a tale well-told is enough to make it worth telling.

Reviewed by Matt Kane

PKR082208 (Updated: 08/28/08 KR)

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