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Actors: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough, Sa´d Taghmaoui
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, African American Cinema
Academy Award« nominee Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Crash) and Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential) star in Traitor, a taut international thriller set against a puzzle of covert counter-espionage operations. When straight... more »
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Where Do His Loyalties Lie?
Chris Pandolfi | Los Angeles, CA | 08/28/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The movie is called "Traitor," and the implication is that the main character, played by Don Cheadle, has betrayed his own country. But it's nowhere near that simple. Some think he's a traitor to the United States while others think he's a traitor to Islam. He may be a traitor to his own beliefs, his loyalties divided between his Muslim faith and his American upbringing. By the end of the film, no one is any closer to understanding what he believes, himself least of all. He's a double agent frequently confronted by conflicting ideologies, and it's slowly but surely tearing him apart. One way this movie succeeds is that we're able to feel for this character no matter what side he's on; we can sense the anguish he feels, the torment of being a misfit in every culture he immerses himself in. We see in his face the unease and guilt he's forced to live with everyday.
Cheadle plays Samir Horn, who was born in Sudan but raised in the United States. Thirty years ago, his father was killed in a terrorist attack, although it's unclear which side was responsible; it may have been an anti-Muslim faction, but it may also have been devout Muslims who opposed his beliefs. Whatever the case, Horn is now a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant for the United States Army, someone trained to infiltrate terrorist organizations and gather information. It seems his loyalties have shifted; while in Yemen, he's caught selling detonators to a group of jihadists, and after a brief shootout, everyone is arrested. In prison, he befriends Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), who is apparently in league with people on the outside, people willing to risk incarceration or death to free their brother Muslims. A frenetic jailbreak ensues. Not long after, Horn becomes entangled in a terrorist conspiracy, one that would result in several major attacks on American soil.
Two FBI agents have been assigned to locate and arrest Horn. One is Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce), who, interestingly enough, once considered World Religions as a college major. He claims to take his own Christian faith seriously, but unlike Horn with the Koran, we never see him reading from the Bible or quoting any of its passages. We're never told what Max Archer (Neal McDonough) believes, although it's obvious that, as far as his job is concerned, he's all about getting results as quickly as possible; in an early scene, he gets impatient with Horn and subsequently punches him in the stomach. Clayton is much more calm and collected, and he understands that you get information from a suspect by pushing his buttons, not by letting him push yours. Indeed, Horn is a tough nut to crack, probably because he knows how to keep secrets from both sides.
To describe the plot any further would not only give too much away, it would also require a lot of explaining, more so than anyone would be willing to read. As Horn says, "The truth is complicated." It would be more accurate to say that the truth is elusive, simply because I'm not convinced he knows what the truth is. He probably no longer knows which side represents good and which side represents evil. His beliefs are divided between what he reads in the Koran and what he sees going on; one passage states that killing one man is like killing all mankind, yet he's surrounded by Islamic extremists who commit murder to get their point across. He's serious about his faith, but it's clear he doesn't always understand it. He certainly doesn't understand how certain ideas can be misconstrued out of all reason, such as Takfiri, or blending in. A Pakistani terrorist named Fareed (Aly Khan) baffles Horn by saying that jihadists living in America drink alcohol and eat pork in order to blend in. Both acts go against Islamic beliefs.
Horn would probably argue that murder, no matter how justified, also goes against Islamic beliefs (I would make the same argument, although I'm well aware that many people would not). If there were no jihadists, if terrorism were to be eradicated entirely, Horn would not need to be a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant. He would not have to infiltrate enemy hideouts and pretend to be on their side. Only then would his mind be at ease; he could worship in peace without having to worry about suspicious activity in American and Muslim communities. Is it unreasonable to suggest that the vast majority of Muslims long for the same peace of mind? I don't think so. Neither is the idea that there's a gigantic difference between jihad terrorists and those of Islamic faith.
That may ultimately be the point "Traitor" is trying to make, although it's difficult to tell with a story actively trying to be ambiguous. Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and producer/co-story creator Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) have crafted a political drama that forces the audience to think really hard, more about the main character's beliefs than about the actual plot. Themes of not belonging and divided loyalties are certainly not new, but that doesn't mean they're no longer used effectively; "Traitor" succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is Don Cheadle's believable performance. He above all else is what gets the story off the ground, allowing it to be much more than a run-of-the-mill thriller. He adds genuine emotional touches in the subtlest of ways, from precise eye movements to random breathing patterns. Essentially, he makes it real, especially since he never reveals which side his character feels most connected with."
Excellent Don Cheadle Thriller
Terence Allen | Atlanta, GA USA | 08/29/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Traitor is a fantastic thriller starring Don Cheadle as Samir Horn, a Muslim who was born in Sudan and moved to America as a teenager. He grows up to be a Special Forces soldier for the US, and as the movie begins, we see him moving through the Middle East selling explosives.
His fate crosses with two FBI agents, played by Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough. Soon the two are crisscrossing the globe hunting Samir, who is becoming more and more involved with a cell led by a terrorist mastermind.
The film is written and directed as a great thriller with enough action and suspense to keep you ocuupied and guessing, but not to the extent that it comes off like a routine action movie trying to be more than it is. The film has several twists and surprises and keeps the viewer engaged throughout.
But everything is held together is by Cheadle, who burnishes his reputation as one of Hollywood's greatest talents. His Samir is at once devious, treacherous, loving, compassionate, stubborn, and dangerous. Traitor is a great film, but it would not possess the same impact with a lesser talent as its star."
A film that makes you think
R. Kyle | USA | 08/30/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The film opens in Sudan, 1978. A car bomb kills a young man's dad. We never know what side the bombers were on. I don't suppose it matters.
Years later, Samir (Cheadle) is in prison in Yemen as a terrorist. Two FBI agents, Roy Clayton (Pearce) and Archer (McDonough), try to turn him as an informant. Their approach is radically different, Clayton tries to befriend Samir, while Archer tries to beat him into submission.
We follow Samir as he escapes prison with a prisoner he's befriended and joins a terrorist organization and begins bombing plans. But, is Samir actually a terrorist and a traitor to the US?
"Traitor" poses as many questions as it answers--not just about Samir himself, but terrorism, religion, and God. This is one of Cheadle's best roles. He keeps you riveted through the whole story.
One note: while this film earned a PG-13 rating, I think it's closer to an R. There's a lot of strong violence here and younger kids might be upset by bombs going off.
Rebecca Kyle, August 2008"
Patriotism, Faith or Fanaticism?
Mark J. Fowler | Okinawa, Japan | 01/04/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jeffrey Nachmanoff's "Traitor" is a tense, well-paced thriller that keeps us on the edge of our seat, at the same time aiming for our most visceral and human emotions. It challenges us to consider the border between political and religious extremism and sincere, deeply held patriotism and faith. I was a little surprised that Kennedy Center Honoree Steve Martin, better known for Wild and Crazy comedy, wrote the story Nachmanoff adapted into a taut screenplay.
Don Cheadle should receive an Oscar nomination in the lead role of Samir Horn. Samir is not a one-dimensional character and Cheadle embodies him with a focused yet larger than life performance.
In the opening scene we see a young Samir in Sudan, in a room praying with his devout Muslim father. Then something happens that we have no trouble understanding colors Samirs thoughts and beliefs and motivations for the rest of his life.
We see Samir in modern times dealing sophisticated explosives to an Islamic terrorist group in Yemen. Government agents burst in on the deal, taking Samir and the terrorists into custody. It is implied in Yemen this involves frequent beatings and long imprisonment.
We are introduced to a pair of FBI agents. Max, the hot-headed one is played by Neal McDonough. The thoughtful one, Roy Clayton, is played by Guy Pearce, who grew up in Australia but once again immerses himself in the role of an American so well I had no difficulty believing Roy is the son of a Southern Baptist Minister. (I'm the son of a Roy and a Southern Baptist myself.) Roy is the second most important character in the film. He became interested in Arabic culture in college, and now works for the FBI combating terrorism. Astute and perceptive, he understands that Samir has a sincere muslim belief and is not simply interested in blowing up all things not muslim.
We find later that Samir is deeper still. Jeff Daniels plays Carter, a U.S. Intelligence officer, the only person alive who knows that Samir is a double agent sent to infiltrate a secret Islamic terrorist organization.
Much of the suspense in the film is generated because Carter (and by extension the audience) doesn't know if Samir has "gone to the other side".
Said Taghmaoui plays Omar, a member of the secret terrorist group who brings Samir into the fold, and in another fine wrinkle of the textured screenplay, we get to see many shades of gray even among the terrorists.
The film asks difficult questions and does not imply that there are easy - or any - answers. If you have the most sincere patriotism or faith, how many innocent people can you kill in the name of your country or faith? Fanatics may answer "however many it takes", but Samir and Roy both have doubts, and you believe that their personal faith informs their decisions.
This is a thoughtful thriller and if you're interested in such things - you should see it. The Lord bless and keep you: As-Salamu `Alaikum.