‘Traitor’ Tries to be ‘The Departed’… with Terrorists

Don Cheadle in Traitor

Over the past few years, we have seen many films (arguably too many) trying to make sense of both sides of the War on Terror. The latest installment in this national obsession is the film Traitor.

In the movie, Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn, a Sudan-born freelance weapons supplier who works with various terror organizations in the Middle East. During a weapons deal gone wrong, Samir is captured by the police and put into a Yemen prison with the rest of the terrorists. There, he bonds with Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), who orchestrates a prison break and brings him along for the ride.

Samir hooks up with a high-level terrorist outfit and starts helping them plan and engineer some terror attacks across Europe. At the same time, two hard-nosed FBI agents (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) are tracking Samir around the world, trying to stop him from executing a terror attack on U.S. soil.

The biggest stumbling block in the beginning of this film is that Don Cheadle just seems like a really nice guy. And it is for this reason that he doesn’t make the greatest terrorist. You just plain like him too much, regardless of the fact that he’s selling detonators to the bad guys and building bombs for them.

However, Cheadle is a good actor, and he’s able to give the character some depth and make him an interesting person. Plus, there are some quality scenes that reveal his motivations, his loyalties and the way he thinks. Without Cheadle, the movie would lose its vital source of compassion and empathy.

Traitor tries to show the inner workings of the international terrorist trade by exposing its underbelly from the inside. In this sense, the movie reminded me a lot of the film The Departed… only with terrorists instead of gangsters. (Of course, while interesting and exciting at parts, Traitor lacks the brilliant writing and flawless execution we saw in The Departed.)

Like many films about our terrorist enemies, it goes out of its way to understand the Islamic fundamentalists. And here the film does shoot itself in the foot. On one hand, it tries to drive home the truth that not all Muslims are terrorists. On the other hand, it makes excuses for the terrorists’ actions and paints the picture that everyone in the Muslim world hates America.

Traitor definitely has its preachy moments, but at least these moments are delivered in bitter little pills throughout without becoming a pervasive theme in the film. I don’t like preaching, even if I agree with it, so while they are hard to swallow, the sermons are not delivered for the entire running time.

At times, the film isn’t sure where it’s going. The international intrigue works against it for about half the film, making the storyline and series of events ultimately confusing. And there are some moments where characters make really dumb moves (like when Samir goes to visit an old girlfriend who is being tailed by the FBI).

Still, on its more mainstream level, as an international thriller, the movie works. Sure, it’s as predictable as a Vegas magic show, but it can be a fun ride.

THE UPSIDE: Taken as an international thriller, it can be thrilling.

THE DOWNSIDE: Has many preachy moments, but at least they are concentrated here and there rather than hammering a point home throughout the entire film.

ON THE SIDE: If you are on a bus, and a sweaty, nervous person is clutching a bag, murmuring to him or herself in Arabic, it’s okay to point this out to the driver.

Grade: B-

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