Traitor is a serviceable thriller with a couple of nice twists and some amazing locations, but it never really decides what it wants to be. As an action/suspense film, it misses the mark by being too talky. As a drama and commentary on current geopolitical and religious themes, it’s too hollow and seems to settle for the easy way out. It doesn’t stop the film from being engaging, but it’s in a B-grade kind of way.
Don Cheadle stars as Samir Horn, a U.S. insider selling explosives to various terrorist groups around the world. His actions catch the eye of rank-and-file CIA agent Roy Clayton (Pearce), who assembles a task force to apprehend Horn. The film’s title takes on a double-meaning as Horn tries to piece together who is on his side and who’s not – and the fates of thousands of people across the heart of the U.S. are at stake.
Traitor tries to toe the line of several genres, but the whole thing never quite gels. There are plenty of scenes in which writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s script appears on track to make some bold observations and separate the film from the largely safe Hollywood political landscape. These scenes never quite make it to fruition, and instead usually end with a semi-inflammatory remark about religion or global politics. If you want talking points, you got them. If you want a bigger picture commentary on the reasons for global terrorism, look elsewhere. The action scenes do have some grit thanks to the stunning locations on display. Nachmanoff’s direction is pretty solid, particularly during the film’s closing sequence twist.
Cheadle is a very gifted actor, but his character here is fairly one-dimensional and doesn’t provide any chance for Cheadle to really run away with the film. He plays Samir almost too straight, with the main character development arising in the form of one-liners and a no-nonsense attitude. It’s nice to see Guy Pearce back on screen, though his role here is thankless as a rather stock CIA agent. Jeff Daniels shows up briefly as Samir’s informant, but his role is underutilized and underdeveloped.
It’s always a shame when a film can clearly be better than the final product. Traitor is such a case, whether it is the studio’s fault or the general political pandering of Hollywood in general. The film sets up compelling situations and then talks its way out of them with all-too-easy solutions. The result is a thriller that’s not suspenseful enough and a drama that is not daring enough.
Studio: Overture Films
Length: 110 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language.
Theatrical Release: August 27, 2008
Directed by: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Written by: Jeffrey Nachmanoff. Story by Nachmanoff & Steve Martin.
Cast: Don Cheadle, Archie Panjabi, Guy Pearce, Lorena Gale, Aly Khan, Simon Reynolds