Two FBI agents (Pearce, McDonough) are on the trail of former US Special Forces explosives expert Samir Horn (Cheadle), who is now keeping company with terrorists. All is not what it seems, though, and as complexities of character are revealed, tightly woven plans begin to unravel.
Kudos to writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who after being partly responsible for penning Roland Emmerich’s intensely stupid The Day After Tomorrow has come back with this measured and sensitive examination of the War On Terror — perhaps it’s the help of new writing partner Steve Martin (yes, that one). Set free from Emmerich’s need to bludgeon an audience with overblown and obvious visuals, the fledgling director achieves far more with — wouldn’t you know it? — a decent script (which wisely harks backto Cold War spy thrillers) and a solid ensemble cast.
A wise director once said, “If you can get Don Cheadle in your movie, get Don Cheadle in your movie.” Even if he should have added “without a cockney accent”, you’ve got to appreciate the sentiment, and Cheadle is as magnetic as ever here as Samir Horn, a weapons authority with enough red flags in his profile to light up the CIA’s Christmas tree (if they were allowed one). Samir, born in Sudan and a devout Muslim, is now a US citizen and former Special Forces explosives expert — which would be fine if he hadn’t recently been caught selling C-4 to terrorists. Making the arrest are two shrewd FBI agents played by Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough, the former somewhat more PC in his world outlook than the latter, and who suspects that Samir is more than he appears. The real question, though, true to the best of the genre, rests in the motives of his superiors.Traitor does suffer from the occasional plothole and patch of wooden dialogue, but when Nachmanoff finds the groove it displays a knack for solid characterisation and expertly timed twists, at times achieving ‘is he?/isn’t he?’ qualities to match the likes of, say, No Way Out. A pity, then, that it can never quite sustain its momentum, and a shame that someone felt a need to ‘sex up’ the story with a few too many action set-pieces (which roll into a clunky coda), but seeing the FBI’s powers of technology-fuelled deduction fall short of the usual Hollywood benchmark of miraculous is a welcome touch of restraint.
More carefully measured than many of its American contemporaries, Traitor doesnt match the heights of Syriana, but sits comfortably above, say, The Kingdom for mapping out the complexities of its issues .