Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

This movie ‘Traitor’, a film that I would consider one of the best I’ve seen in 2008 thus far, which ain’t so bad considering of course that 2008 is almost over, was based on a short story by Steve Martin. Steve Martin? You mean the ‘Wild and Crazy Guy Steve Martin?’ The Jerk? ‘We Want to Pump You Up? King Tut? That Steve Martin? Yep, that Steve Martin. I joke about Mr. Martin’s public persona with his wild antics and arrow through the head thing he used to do back in the day, or even the tragedy of ‘Bringing Down the House’ that he’s done recently, but I’ve heard enough from the real Steve Martin on National Public Radio to know that he seems to be one of the more introspective deeper thinking cats that his industry has to offer. How much of Martin’s original story survived to make it to the screen I can’t be to sure, but ‘Traitor’ from director Jeffrey Natchmanoff is a very good movie. One that seemed to be on its way to being a great movie from my vantage point, but ultimately tailed off just enough to only be considered very good, which again isn’t so bad.

When first meet young Samir Horn he is precocious little boy in the Sudan playing chess with his father when a tragic event permanently alters his life forever. Many years later when we again meet Mr. Horn (Don Cheadle) as he his in Yemen and is on his way to meet up with some terrorists to sell them a crap load of detonators so that they can do their terrorist thing. Suddenly there is a raid lead by FBI agents Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Archer (Neil McDonough) which leads to the death of a large number of these terrorist. Fortunately for Horn he managed to survive, though another survivor, Omar (Said Taghmaoui), is fairly convinced that Horn has sold them out.

Agent Archer attempted to make Horn a deal to get him out of his unfortunate situation, which is nothing less than alifetime in a Yemen jail cell, if he would just cooperate with them but Horn isn’t having any of it. In prison Horn is able to gain the trust and eventually the loyal friendship of Omar who has assured him that their stay in captivity is about to come to a sudden and explosive end and has subsequently made him an offer to join his terrorist organization which Horn eagerly accepts.

Over the next couple of months Horn will prove himself more than worthy to Omar and his superiors as they plan an attack on western soil, an attack to top all other terrorist acts with Horn as the point man. The more Agent Clayton learns about Samir Horn the cloudier his intentions become as the situation surrounding the man becomes murkier by the moment. The net that Archer has thrown around Horn in effort to capture him begins to tighten, but the question remains: Is he a terrorist, a secret agent, a double agent or, as the films title would suggest, simply a traitor?

As a tale of political intrigue that manages to keep the audience guessing, Natchmanoff’s film works beautifully, with a large portion of the credit for this success having to go to the films star Don Cheadle. As the character of Samir Horn Cheadle does a fantastic job of hiding his hand, however at the same time giving us tips to his characters true intentions so that when these intentions are revealed to the audience it doesn’t come as some ‘out of left field’ style twist, just a further extension of the character that he’s created.

In addition to Cheadle’s fine performance, which we have become more than accustomed to at this point in his career, the smart script also benefits from a pair equally impressive performances from Said Taghmaoui as Omar, the intensely loyal, idealistic and somewhat fanatical point man of this terrorist organization. Taghmaoui takes a complex role that could easily have been palmed off as a simple bloodthirsty Islamic terrorist villain, like in one of the Chuck Norris Cannon films from back in the day, but actually humanizes his character. Not that anyone can ever agree or justify what his character has done and is attempting to do, but the film does its damndest to provide a fair and balanced dialogue on both sides of the issues and gives the reasons why these people do what they do, as the film also pays a healthy respect to the Islamic religion. Guy Pearce also steps up to the plate, complete with a southern accent for the Australian actor, in a role that also could’ve been simply a throwaway upstanding patriotic blue-eyed good guy, but Pearce also manages to give his character more depth and understanding to his patriotism and his duty.

As ‘Traitor’ enters into its third act some of the firm grip that it had on a gritty reality starts to give way a little bit towards some undeniable implausibility, which leads to a conclusion that I admittedly have some serious questions about. However, even though the narrative did change its tone during this period, to the actors benefit the characters that they played never fell into the trap that this narrative set for them.

Despite the gradual decent into lunacy that plagued this film near its conclusion, I still found ‘Traitor’ an immensely satisfying film experience that is framed by some fine performances by it’s accomplished cast.

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