Saturday, September 10, 2016


Written at the time of the film's release.

"I Wouldn't Make Any Plans, Man..."

Traitor is a taut, tough little thriller about the FBI (yes, the FBI) trying to track down a group of Islamic jihadists with plans to pull off a continuing string of bombings throughout the world. Their focus is on Samir Horn (Don Cheadle), born in the Sudan, and who disappeared while working for the government in Afghanistan. Word is that he found his faith working for the mujahadin, and now he's been tracked selling detonators to a terrorist faction in Yemen.

There, two FBI agents, Clayton (Guy Pearce, this time with a convincing soft Southern accent) and Archer (Neal McDonough) are tracking the faction's movements, and during a raid, Horn is captured, but will not turn over any evidence to help the investigation. Despite that, in prison, he is doubted by the fellow-jihadists as a possible informer to the U.S., and a target by some of the prisoners. Outside, he is not trusted at all, but as long as he's detained, he's not considered a threat.
Then, he breaks out. And he gets very busy contacting associates, sleeper-cells, and working on detonators for a coordinated attack.
At this point, to reveal any more of the plot might be unfair to anyone who wants to see a well-done "War on Terror" thriller, done in the shakiest "Bourne" style, with powerhouse performances by Cheadle, Pearce, McDonough and Jeff Daniels. Real tension is achieved throughout the story, as the stakes get increasingly higher. And writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, working from a story by Steve Martin* (yes, that Steve Martin) keeps things simple and straight-forward--pretty amazing, given that his last credit was for screen-writing The Day After Tomorrow. Without much on his resume to indicate that he was capable of this, it will be interesting to see what he does in the future.
The other neat thing is seeing Don Cheadle in full "action-star" mode--tight, lean and fast, he pulls off several well-done fight scenes, while never sacrificing the wariness and intelligence in his eyes. At this point, it should be pretty obvious that Cheadle can play just about anything, and have the audience with him the whole way.

The view from 2016: This one has stuck with me over the years for many reasons: the excellent direction, Cheadle in full-on "star" mode, and the screenplay, that plays like a normal thriller (ho-hum) replete with shaky-cam, exotic, if shell-shocked, locales and a "trust me, we'll get there" air of non-disclosure. It then delivers on that tactic with one of the biggest surprises that year in movies—a surprise both wicked and shocking in its dark humor, but carrying with it a certain degree of satisfaction in its outcome, one that could be traced to Martin's sense of the absurd and his instinct for a killer punch-line. "You live by the sword..." you die by the sting. Traitor is more than a little brilliant in how it carries out its agenda, using a terrorist's tactics, working in anonymity, against itself. It still makes me smile...if not necessarily making me laugh.

* Sleeping on it, Martin's participation seems apt, rather than surprising. The denouement is the product of a Master of the Absurd, and thinking further on it, in the War on Terror, Absurdity is only a realization away from the insanity of the unthinking zealot. Maybe in the War on Terror, we need fewer strategists and more comedians. "Laugh? I killed 'em!"

No comments:

Post a Comment