CAPSULE: TRAITOR starts with the complexity and credibility of a John LeCarre spy story and transforms itself into an action thriller of the Frederick Forsyth mold. A man of Sudanese and American origins is recruited into a terrorist organization in Yemen. He works his way toward a large terrorist strike as two FBI agents struggle to track him down, confounded as much by their own organization as by the secrecy of their enemy. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Samir Horn as a boy saw his father killed in a booby-trapped car. As a man Samir (played by Don Cheadle) still does not know if Islamists killed the father if it was United States agents. Now as a man he has entered the same game. He sells weapons to terrorist organizations in Yemen. In the course of selling Semtex explosives to one group he meets Omar (Said Taghmaoui), a terrorist lieutenant. Omar at first distrusts Samir but becomes impressed by Samir's sincerity and his devotion to Islam. Soon Samir and Omar are partners in planning Islamist terror operations. Meanwhile the FBI and another organization--unnamed but very likely the CIA-- cooperate and compete to get information about the Islamist group and the operation they are planning. FBI Agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) are in Yemen, well beyond their jurisdiction, to attack terrorist cells. They temporarily capture Samir and Omar. Meanwhile Carter (Jeff Daniels) from another intelligence organization tries to ace them at their own game. Samir and Omar work to put together a sort of super strike that will rival September 11 and strike even harder into the American Heartland.
Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who co-wrote the screenplay for THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, here directs as well as having co-written the screenplay with the many-faceted Steve Martin. The story is written with a strong feeling for the fog of war. The United States anti- terrorism organizations collaborate as a team, but only to the minimum degree that the government tolerates or just a little bit less. The terrorist cells they are investigating are little better and nobody on either side has any idea who they can trust. Both sides are riddled with incompetence and outright betrayal. Loyalties are divided and tested. Like a Bond or Bourne film the story hops over much of the world with settings in Yemen, Sudan, France, The US, and Canada. One peculiarity is that while much of the Islamists' dialog is their own language, they seem to use more English than one would expect. This relieves the audience of the burden of the subtitles, but it does not seem realistic.
Samir's character is very much at the heart of this story. Cheadle's performance forms the core of this film. Basically a good man, he is pulled into the vortex of the world of terrorism. He combines intellect and a sort of weariness. Clearly there is a lot going on under the surface of this man, and as the film progresses we get an understanding that there is even more than we realized. This is a man being torn by divided loyalties. It is hard to see him as a bad guy. The two FBI agents tracking Samir are a little more clichd as a slightly mismatched team. Max Archer is a big man, thoughtless and a little tactless. Roy Clayton is an intellectual and a Southerner (with a reasonably convincing accent from British/Australian Guy Pierce).
Much of the fascination of TRAITOR is the view of how the terrorists work and how FBI and CIA fail to cooperate. We also get a better feel for American vulnerability in this conflict. Occasionally things are a little more sugarcoated than one would want, but for most of the story the feel is realistic, up to but not including the climax. I rate TRAITOR a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0988047/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper