One of the more overlooked movies of the year, Jeffrey Nachmanoff's Traitor is an interesting and suspenseful thriller about suicide bombers in the United States. A summer flick that seemed to lack any major promotion efforts - and probably would have been more suited for a spring release - disappeared quietly and quickly, which is a shame because the movie is a surprisingly effective picture.
I didn't know what to expect of Traitor. The movie didn't receive great reviews, and most audiences ignored it. The previews made it look pretty good but not like a must-see, and the title and subject matter probably don't help matters either. While one might have suspected that Don Cheadle's "traitorous" character isn't quite what he seems on the surface, it still wasn't clear whether he was the good guy or bad guy. Going into the film, I still wasn't sure.
Cheadle stars as Samir Horn, a Muslim-American man who has become an arms dealer for the highest bidder. When he is caught selling weapons to terrorists in the Middle East, he himself is suspected of terrorism and placed in a Yemeni prison. There, he is befriended by a group of young terrorists led by Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui, who made a name for himself as an Iraqi interrogator in Three Kings) and subsequently joins their group after they help him escape. Samir, a former bomb specialist for the U.S. military, is a valuable asset to the terrorist organization, and they soon employ him to help with a massive strike against the United States. Hot on his tail are cleverly named FBI agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough).
Traitor is, in essence, a lesser version of The Bourne Identity, and that comparison is fair because you can tell Nachmanoff was trying to take elements from the Bourne franchise. The music, though much more subdued than in the Bourne flicks, is similar, and the movie itself feels like it wants to be the smart, fast-paced thrill ride that the Bourne movies represent. That being said, Traitor isn't as smart or as suspenseful as it thinks it is, but still keeps pace with many films of the genre. The picture relies more on its story than its action, which is fine; a thriller about suicide bombers in America works for me.
The movie also keeps you guessing as to what Samir's true intentions are. While I was pretty sure of his motives, it isn't always clear. Furthermore, the ending keeps you on the edge of your seat, as you're not quite sure how things are going to work out - if they're going to work out at all. Real suspense was more than I was expecting, and Traitor delivers.
The film does suffer from a few plot holes (like how do the people from all over the country end up on the same bus?) and a rather adequate performance from Cheadle, though his weakness of the screenplay's intentional vagueness toward his character. On the flip side, it could be said that the character of Samir in the hands of a lesser actor would be disastrous. Also, the movie does briefly introduce a quasi-love interest, or at least an interesting character relationship, yet this subplot is not explored to the detail it needs.
Traitor is an effective thriller, though it doesn't really stand out in any way or form. Still, it's surprisingly suspenseful and moderately intelligent. Recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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