The truth is not as complicated as the film’s tagline would have you believe. Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn: an ex-US military explosives expert who happens to be a Muslim. Unfortunately for the United States, Horn appears to have gone rogue and working with an international terrorist group. Every time he proves himself to his “brothers” he takes another step toward enacting their ultimate goal of a nationwide attack.
Hot on Horn’s trail is FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce), a calculating and cool-under-fire operative who is relentless in his pursuit. He sees the situation clearly: Horn is a Muslim extremist, enacting Jihad against Americans. The reality, of course, is a little different, but still pretty clear and straightforward.
Traitor is an excellent movie on all fronts. It delivers adequately as a thriller. There’s deceit, murder, explosions and all the other hallmarks of a satisfying espionage film. What the movie does exceedingly well is humanize America’s enemies, bringing reason that Westerners can appreciate to their actions. Alone, that aspect is nothing new, but Traitor manages to draw similarities between Christian and Muslim soldiers while still clearly distinguishing the real-world bad guys who manipulate the religious faithful into committing despicable acts of violence.
The performances here are stellar. Don Cheadle manages to convey his frustration and internal conflict regarding his actions as he finds more and more of them stray from his faith. Pearce’s Clayton is also a joy to watch as he goes about his manhunt methodically, if somewhat dispassionately, and with a sexy Southern twang to boot. Both actors come across realistically and as if they’ve been doing their jobs their entire lives. What really brings these characters to life, however, is the writing.
Writer and director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, with the help of Steve Martin (who knew he had such range?), has crafted a smart, entertaining film that also manages to provide a sober look at Muslim culture and terrorism in the name of religion. As Horn says in the film, “I answer to God. We all do.” American viewers may be a little put off by Horn’s actions for the first half of the film as a terrorist. Although, it would be interesting to know if those same viewers will suddenly be alright with those actions once they discover Horn’s true intentions. Is death and violence only acceptable when you’re not on the receiving end? God or Allah probably has a different opinion on the matter.
Traitor is a little thin on the extra content. The DVD offers:
Audio Commentary: You can watch the entire film with commentary from actor Don Cheadle and writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff.
Action Featurette: A short feature detailing the action and special effects throughout the film. This will appeal mostly to viewers who want a behind-the-scenes look at filmmaking, but this segment isn’t detailed enough to offer pointers to aspiring filmmakers.
Location Featurette: A quick look at the different locations used in the film, like Morocco and London, and which places were used to represent other places. This segment is very well done and can hold its own on any travel channel.