Conceived in the aftermath of 9/11 by Steve Martin (yes, that one) and director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, Traitor proved too topical for comfort and took six years to get made – and another to cross the Atlantic.
The reliably excellent and still under-utilised Don Cheadle produced it through his company and stars as Samir Horn, a Sudanese born Muslim of American extraction whose allegiances switch between the US (he’s ex Special Forces) and Jihadi groups – though quite where he stands as the movie gets going is intentionally ambiguous.
Guy Pearce is the FBI agent on the case, desperate to catch up with Samir when he is tracked back on US soil… Pearce is a good guy – he has a PhD in Arabic studies and defuses his less tolerant partner (Neal McDonough), who’s more from the Dick Cheney school of thought.
There are matching cheques and balances on the other side of the equation: Fareed (Aly Khan) is the sinister terrorist mastermind ready to bathe in the blood of Holy War; but Omar (Said Taghmaoui) is a thoughtful and intelligent guy who voices legitimate concerns about western imperialism without coming off like a crazy.
This even-handed approach isn’t quite the same as claiming “moral equivalence” between the terrorists and the homeland security forces. The movie never suggests that the bombings are justified. The plotting may be complex, but it’s nowhere near as sophisticated an analysis of the geo-political situation as Syriana. Rather, it plays like a woolly liberal version of a Robert Ludlum thriller, with a man-on-the-run theme and a race-against-the-clock climax mitigated with a good deal of moral hand-wringing and jaw-jaw.
Good performances from Cheadle and Pearce, as well as supporting actors like Archie Panjabi (as Samir’s better half) and Jeff Daniels (as an old CIA associate) sustain our interest despite a rote feel to the suspense. Nachmanoff is a screenwriter who wrote The Day After Tomorrow. This is his first film as director and he doesn’t try anything too radical unless holding the camera steady counts. These days, maybe it does.
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