Review: Traitor

August 30, 2008 at 4:43 pm Leave a comment

Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn, a devout Muslim who has traveled the globe, assisting various Islamic extremists by building bombs and planning attacks on Western targets.  He’s also working for the U.S. government.  Horn grew up in an Islamic household and eventually joined the United States Army, where he received special ops training.  He soon dissapeared, believed to have turned traitor to the U.S. and begun several bombings.

But all is not as it seems, in the tense, straight-from-the-headlines thriller from director Jeffrey Nachmanoff.  It turns out that Horn is a double agent, working his way up in an underground al-Qaida-esque Islamic terrorist network in order to help bring it down.  His handler is a man named Carter (Jeff Daniels), who has kept his mission top secret from practically everyone.  Horn’s activities have caught the attention of an elite FBI counter-terrorism unit headed by Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough), who have pursued Horn all over the world.

The main focus of this movie is on Cheadle, whose conflicted Horn must deal with the results of his actions alone.  He considers Muslim terrorists traitors to Islam, and is willing to appear to be one of them in order to take them down.  However, in order to gain their trust, he must do what he despises: kill innocent people.  Carter does what he can to help Horn; from planting already-dead bodies in the aftermath of an explosion, to supplying Samir with money and materials needed for the bombs.  Horn, however, becomes guilt-ridden when the innocent body count begins racking up.  All of this leads to a suspenseful final act that raises the bar in post-9/11 thrillers.

Don Cheadle is great in this role.  Even though his boss is Carter, he answers to God alone, willing to ignore his superiors in order to do what is right.  Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough play their parts fine, although they’re relegated to running around after Cheadle.  Jeff Daniels, unfortunately, doesn’t really have much to do.  He’s only in a few scenes and spends much of his screen time annoyed with Horn.  Writer/Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, working from an idea by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) builds the tension slowly, allowing the actors to wade deeper and deeper into the storyline.  The action is rather tame compared to other recent action/thrillers like The Bourne Ultimatum, but the focus here is on the people, and not necessarily the story.

In the end, the big question the movie raises is, “How many innocents must die in order to protect everyone else?”  In an ideal world, the answer would be, “None,” however this is an imperfect world.  Innocent people do die, even if it is in the name of a percieved good.  Traitor doesn’t attempt to answer this question, but puts it out there for the audience to make a decision.  While not exactly a masterpiece of the genre, Traitor stands out by never really choosing a side, and by showing the lengths each side is willing to go to win the ‘War on Terror’.



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