Traitor – Review

The most intelligent espionage thriller in eons

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Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Notable Cast:
Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough, Jeff Daniels, Saïd Taghmaoui, Archie Panjabi

The “War on Terror” has been polarizing in the U.S since it was declared after the attack of 9/11. Those in favor say its striking back at the radicals who mean to do harm; critics complain it’s targeting Muslims in general because “they’re different” in the usual sort of criticism that the “War on Terror” is inherently racist and Anti-Islamic. Trying to walk the fine line between killing terrorists and insulting one of the world’s largest religions has been something the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and NSA have been doing for almost a decade now. And whereas Hollywood tends to dramatically skew things towards one particular viewpoint in political thrillers, its interesting that a poignant and intelligent thriller like Traitor can emerge from a Hollywood more interested in pushing an agenda then putting together a good story in topics like this.

Its easily one of the best of the year, too, which is shocking if only because the film isn’t trying to push an agenda. It’s trying to be a great film, which it does. The key is in the setup.

Traitor begins with us being introduced to Samir (Don Cheadle), who’s trying to deal explosives to some terrorists in Yemen. When the Yemen Army, combined FBI agents Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Archer (Neal McDonough), capture him his world is about to get turned inside out. He becomes friends with Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), a terrorist in high places. When the two escape, he becomes involved in a terror network plotting attacks. The twist is that Samir is a double agent so deep undercover that even his handler (Jeff Daniels) doubts which side he’s on. As the film progresses, Samir has to balance his beliefs as a devout Muslim with the radical ideology he’s enmeshed in while trying to protect innocent lives from being harmed.

As the film progresses, we see Samir try and position his beliefs as a devout Muslim with the more radical members of the people he’s associating with. It becomes interesting to see as their motives aren’t painted as being sympathetic or comically evil either; there’s a certain level of logic to what they say and how they think with lots of quick lines from a tight and intelligent script pointing out flaws of logic and understanding on both sides. The film’s script doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel or pull off a twist; the film’s finale is sound and doesn’t devolve into a clichéd action movie finale. But it’s Guy Pearce and Don Cheadle that carry the film.

Pearce and Cheadle are always on the list of guys who are tremendous actors but never quite get the credit they deserve. Cheadle is often playing second fiddle to lesser talented actors in films while Pearce has such offbeat film choices since L.A Confidential that he’s been under the radar. This is the sort of film that both can use about now; the roles are designed that they spend most of their time playing cat and mouse ala De Niro and Pacino in HEAT or Bale and Ledger in The Dark Knight. The film slowly develops the background of the characters while giving us the men themselves early on; Jeffrey Nachmanoff does a wonderful job of developing the characters to the point where we know them excessively well. He knows how to ratchet up the tension, as the film’s final 20 minutes are absolutely tense and knowing what will happen is something that’s impossible to guess.

Traitor explores a lot of themes of religion and zealotry, but does so with an amount of intelligence that you rarely see. That’s why it’s one of the best films of the year.


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