by Mel Valentin
"Traitor," the new political thriller/action film written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff from a story by Steve Martin (["Shopgirl," "Bowfinger," "L.A. Story," "Roxanne," "The Jerk") is one part "Donnie Brasco," one part "The Fugitive," one part "The Departed," one part "Sleeper Cell" (the 2005-06 Showtime series), and one (small) part "Bourne." While that might make "Traitor" sound highly or even wholly derivative, there's more at play here than predictable plot turns and twists. When the wheels of the convoluted, complicated storyline arenít turning, "Traitor" is an often thought-provoking, intelligent drama that explores, if not always successfully, the struggle within Islam between accommodation and extremism. Heady stuff, certainly, more so for its appearance in a late summer release (i.e., where mediocre movies go quietly into the box office night).Traitor centers on Samir Horn (Don Cheadle), a Sudanese-born American citizen and ex-Special Forces officer with bomb-making and weapons expertise apparently gone rogue. In Yemen, a deal to sell high-grade explosives to Islamic extremists goes awry when two FBI Special Agents assigned to a Special Task Force, Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough), appear with local police officers to arrest the extremists. Refusing to cooperate, Horn is sent to a Yemen prison along with the extremists. There, he slowly befriends the leader of the extremists, Omar (SaÔd Taghmaoui), who, assured of Hornís allegiance to his interpretation of Islam and jihad, asks Horn to join his group.
"Flawed, but surprisingly solid, political thriller/action film."
After Horn escapes from the Yemen prison with Omarís help, they end up is in Marseilles. Omar puts Hornís bomb-making expertise in arming suicide bombers. When their first try goes awry, Horn steps in to suggest bombing the U.S. embassy remotely. Hornís success leads to a meeting with Omarís superior, Fareed (Aly Khan), and later in Canada, Fareedís superior, Nathir (Raad Rawi). As Horn becomes embroiled in Fareed and Nathirís terrorist plot involving U.S.-based sleeper cells, Clayton and Archer dig deeper into Hornís past, including his relationship with a British-born photographer, Chandra Dawkin (Archie Panjabi), living in the United States and an intelligence officer, Carter (Jeff Daniels), who seems to know more about Hornís goals and motivation than heís letting on.
While Nachmanoffís screenplay for Traitor borrows plot elements from several recent films (the Bourne series, The Departed, Donnie Brasco, The Fugitive) and even a television series (Sleeper Cell), all influences difficult to deny, itís also well-paced (minus one or two longueurs), and for most of the running time, suspenseful, if not for the predictable outcome, then on how Traitor gets to that predictable ending. Nachmanoff keeps the suspense at near fever-pitch by using dramatic irony, the distance between what we, as audience members, learn or know, and what the characters know or will learn over the course of Traitorís running time, to heighten and maintain tension. More importantly, Traitor takes a positive, if incomplete, step toward showing Islam favorably through the depiction of Hornís inner and outer conflicts. Heís a deeply religious, practicing Muslim torn between two, mutually exclusive interpretations of the Koran, one which emphasizes peace and accommodation and the other violence and conflict.Whether "Traitor" accurately depicts Arabic Muslims (or Muslims in general), however, is another matter. While Nachmanoff sets aside time for Horn and Omar to discuss Islam and armed struggle, the concept of U.S.-based sleeper cells plays directly to right-wing fears and anxieties about Arab and Muslim immigrants (this despite Nachmanoff including a throwaway line mentioning that Arab Muslims are only a small percentage of all Muslims). Nachmanoff even goes as far as including an Arab Muslim mole working for Omarís organization within the FBI, an idea found in "Vantage Point," a right-wing fantasia about Arab Muslim terrorism released earlier this year. At best, it makes for muddled, contradictory themes. Luckily for Nachmanoff, he had Don Cheadle as his lead actor, Guy Pearce in a supporting role as Hornís sympathetic pursuer, and SaÔd Taghmaoui, a talented French-born Arab actor who imbues Omar with surprising depth and pathos.
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originally posted: 08/27/08 04:41:12