Pitched midway between Syriana and Speed, Traitor attempts to combine the high-octane thrills of a Bourne-esque conspiracy thriller with a treatise on the complexities of covert counter-espionage.
That’s a difficult balancing act to pull off, as Ridley Scott discovered last year with Body Of Lies. And while you have to applaud writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff for trying, you can’t help feeling slick entertainments like this aren’t really the best way to probe thorny geopolitical realities.
Constructed around a couple of fairly foreseeable twists, Nachmanoff’s movie tells of former US operative Samir (Don Cheadle, driven and intense), who appears to have gone dangerously renegade. When we first meet Samir – a Muslim from Senegal who saw his dad blown up when he was a kid – he is trying to flog second-hand Semtex to some Yemeni extremists.
Before he can do so, the buy is raided and he winds up behind bars with charismatic Jihadist Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui). Before long they’ve become firm friends, Samir happily signing up to a future of globe-trotting anti-Americanism. Things are rarely that simple, of course, as thoughtful FBI guy Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce, sporting a pitch-perfect Southern accent) discovers when he delves into Cheadle’s shady motivations…
With Samir’s estranged girlfriend (Archie Panjabi), a sleek, Osama-style mastermind and a CIA agent (Jeff Daniels) also thrown into the mix, not to mention an extended sequence in the slammer that plays like an Arab version of The Shawshank Redemption, there’s a lot of treachery and double-cross to cram into a fast-paced two hours. But it’s all just a front – this is actually a rather simplistic yarn that requires its villains to be as gullible and incompetent as its protagonist is devious and morally conflicted. If al-Qaeda really was as shambolic as this shower, we’d have had them licked a decade ago.
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Strong turns from Cheadle and Pearce elevate an ambitious suspenser with a keen eye for the duplicities that propel the War On Terror. The risible ending, alas, is pure wish-fulfillment hokum, while the solitary female character is barely a cipher.