Radical Schooling: An American operative gets entangled with some Islamic jihadists in Traitor.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Once we get past the obvious similarities to the Bourne franchise– rogue American ex-operative being chased all over the globe by CIA/FBI spooks that think he’s a terrorist– Traitor simmers down into a reasonably smart little thriller with a moral conscience.
Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn, a U.S.-born explosives expert who, after serving in Bosnia and Afghanistan, abruptly follows his Muslim principles over to the other side and hooks up with a nefarious international cabal of rich Islamic jihadists plotting anti-American bombings everywhere from Spain’s Costa del Sol to the American Midwest. Exactly why he’s doing this is a bit unclear, except that Samir is shown to be devout to a fault– the product of his Sudanese father’s teachings– and ready to mix a little plastic explosives into his religious beliefs.
What happens isn’t quite up to Bourne standards– what is?– but director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (writer of The Day After Tomorrow, who wrote Traitor’s screenplay from a story he cooked up with Steve Martin, of all people) and Cheadle (one of a platoon of 13 producers along with Martin) give Samir’s quest a convincing look to go with its able-bodied cast. Guy Pearce, always a credible cop, plays Clayton, the far-a field FBI agent who first encounters Samir in Yemen, then tracks him while puzzling out the dude’s hazy loyalties. Saïd Taghmaoui, Arab-French character stalwart in such pics as Kite Runner, La Haine, Hideous Kinky and Three Kings, plays Omar, Samir’s main man in the jihadists. Omar is by far the most interesting character in the movie, aside from Samir. He comes close to stealing the whole thing in the Yemeni prison scenes.
The rest of the characters behave according to the spy-movie rule book: avuncular-looking Jeff Daniels as a shadowy U.S. national security handler; the beauteous Archie Panjabi (Bend It Like Beckham, Yasmin) as Chandra, Samir’s bewildered girlfriend back home; Aly Khan (A Mighty Heart) as the unctuous terror bankroller Fareed; and Neal McDonough as punch-’em-in-the-face FBI man Archer. Among the principals, only Samir and Omar have anything approaching complexity, so we tend to tune the others out– even Pearce, who usually excels in this sort of ambiguous role.
The action unfolds in at least 13 settings. The filmmakers accomplish this economically (after all, they rescued the production from turn-around limbo) using stock establishing shots for places like Madrid, London and Washington, then actually shooting on location in Chicago, Ontario province, the French Riviera and Morocco. So it’s sub-Bourne in more ways than one.
Samir clings to his faith to the bitter end, but the movie does nothing to calm American suspicions about the loyalties of Muslims in the U.S. According to Traitor, there are violent jihadist sympathizers all across the U.S. and Canada, or in any case, at least a busload of them. Cheadle’s Samir, a Hotel Rwanda-style stranger in a strange land everywhere he goes, is the last moral man in the country.
TRAITOR (2 ½) Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff. • Starring Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce and Jeff Daniels. • PG-13, 114 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.