Traitor (2008)

DVD Cover (Overture Films)
Genres: Action Thriller, Thriller, Unglamorized Spy Film
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Jeffrey Nachmanoff Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Don Cheadle Don Cheadle
Guy Pearce Guy Pearce
Sad Taghmaoui Sad Taghmaoui
Neal McDonough Neal McDonough
Alyy Khan Alyy Khan

7.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: September 03, 2008
In you could liken the world of political intrigue to a Monopoly board, "Traitor" would feel sort of like New York Avenue - not quite as bad as Baltic Avenue ("Rendition") but not even close to Park Place ("In the Valley of Elah"). The problem with "Traitor" is that it takes itself too seriously yet never seems to answer any of its own underlying questions and moral dilemmas. It's a film that wants to be important and wants to tackle serious issues, but doesn't seem to have the patience to allow its characters time enough to do that. Just when you think something might happen, we get another CGI explosion or another infiltrated mole in an operation. "Traitor", on the other hand, is a very well orchestrated mind game. We don't really know who to trust for a very long time, and we don't know if the central character is on the side of good or the side of bad, though we do have our suspicions. By the end of the film, I didn't know if there was a single character in the film who had done the right thing. It seemed like everyone was a villain. That didn't work for me.

This thriller opens with Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) being thrown into a Yemenese prison on charges of terrorism. He is being accused of working with a national terrorist group and helping to blow up a number of locations. In prison, he meets Omar (Said Taghmaoui), who is first distrusting but then grows to treat Samir much like a brother. He actually brings Samir in on his own terrorist group, which also happens to be one of the largest in the world - a group that wants to inflict as much death and damage on America as possible. Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough co-star as Agents Clayton and Archer, who are tracking down the terrorists, especially Samir. It is eventually learned that Samir was military, special forces, and that it looks like he might have jumped sides, based on his strong Muslim beliefs. Most of the film deals with the Americans looking for Samir, the terrorists trying to figure out if they can trust Samir and random sideplots involving Samir's old girlfriend and witty detective banter. Jeff Daniels co-stars as Carter, Samir's friend on the inside and the only one who really seems to know what is going on in the film most of the time, including the audience.

Let's start with the film being completely predictable. A film can be mediocre throughout, but if it wows me with a killer ending, I am typically sold. Some might consider "Traitor" to have one of those endings, but I saw it coming a mile away. I actually started predicting it as soon as the idea was tossed out by a supporting character, and I saw my prediction come true. In fact, the only plot twist I didn't see coming involved Cheadle and Daniels in a parking garage. Everything else felt like your standard political thriller jargon. Another problem I had with the film was that the group of terrorists, to me anyways, felt like they were substandard. It was like they couldn't figure out what in the hell was going on most of the time. They just didn't seem realistic. I have to think that some of these terrorists would eventually start picking up on Cheadle's little giveaways, such as his inability to seem like he is passionate about anything he is doing. But, no - instead we get terrorists who only know how to do two things - pray to Mecca and blow up stuff. Oh, how I long for a film that treats terrorists with some shred of interest. I am sick and tired of seeing the same thing over and over again in pictures. Terrorists do more than pray and blow up stuff. If they didn't, they would be far easier to predict and, therefore, far easier to apprehend.

Now, for the performances. Don Cheadle is one of the finest actors in Hollywood today and his work in films such as "Hotel Rwanda" and "Talk to Me" speaks for itself. However, the Don Cheadle in "Traitor" feels like he's paying off a debt. He has no personality in this film, and though it is sometimes called for, it does feel a little too 'nothing' at times. Even when he is trying to convince other terrorists that he is 'one of the guys', he can't muster up enough passion to make the audience believe he even wants to make them believe. I hated Don Cheadle in this film. Guy Pearce is also doing his best 'good old boy' impression and it wears thin real quick. We know Guy Pearce doesn't speak like that and we find ourselves wanting him to stop. Jeff Daniels does a nice job with the very little he is given, but his character is wholly underdeveloped. Neal McDonough is probably the most consistently entertaining presence in the film, and even he is only there to give Guy Pearce's character some conflict in an interrogation scene that just feels too rehearsed and far too stock for today's audiences. In short, "Traitor" just doesn't take any chances.

This was one of the most disappointing films of the year. With the pedigree attached, I was just expected so much more. The film was co-penned by Steve Martin - yes, the Steve Martin who also brought us "The Spanish Prisoner" and "Shopgirl". He is way out of his league here. This material is not his cup of tea, and I have to think a lot of the films problems start at the script level. I also think Don Cheadle is miscast here because he obviously doesn't want to be doing what he's doing in the picture. "Traitor" just doesn't add up to much in the grand scheme of things. It wants to be more than it is, wants to do more than it does and always seems to be missing that one extra thing to make it stand out from the rest. I don't recommend it. I can recommend things about it and I can say that it's more accessible than "Rendition", but I don't recommend it. Instead, go rent a film from a couple of years back called "Catch A Fire". Now, that was a great film.

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