Don Cheadle turns in yet another tour de force performance this time as Samir Horn, a former U.S. Military operative closely connected to a terrorist group committed to executing bombing missions around the globe. Writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff crafts a taut thriller that delves deeply into the mindset and methods of a terrorist cell intent on striking ongoing fear into the hearts of the western world. Disenfranchised and polarized, Samir acts on his interpretation of Muslim beliefs that disguise his buried motivations. A team of FBI agents led by Australian actor Guy Pearce as agent Roy Clayton close in on Samir as his cell plans a devastating synchronized attack on America. Traitor is an intense and highly politicized film that dares to look at more than a few sides of an ideological battle that rages throughout the world.
The stinging dramatic tone of Traitor comes through in Samir’s calling one of his FBI interrogators a “genius” as he throws their holier-than-thou rhetoric about his killing innocent civilians in their face as standard operating procedure for U.S. military tactics. The word cuts to the quick of the U.S. war on Afghanistan to secure the world’s biggest untapped oil reserves in Kazakhstan—a reality that you don’t hear about on NPR, let alone any other major media outlet. The phony hunt for Osama? Genius. Spending upwards of $13 trillion on an Iraq war that has bankrupted the country and increased the Middle Eastern terrorist threat a thousand fold? Genius. Never before has cynical irony been so fleetly expressed in a single word, for it simultaneously synthesizes and deconstructs the brainwash propaganda that the World Bank has systematically filtered through every political and media outlet for as far back as our short term memory serves.
It takes more than two thirds of the movie to find out who Samir Horn is to himself because our alternating perception of him as a terrorist or a double undercover agent remains at odds with the way he cares about people near him. Born in Sudan, where he witnessed his father being blown up by a car bomb, Samir moved to the States where his Muslim beliefs clashed with his duties working as an operations officer for the feds that fired him. So he packed his bag and went to work as an arms dealer to terrorist organizations. Samir gets nabbed and tossed in prison, but he instinctively knows whom to befriend and doesn’t stay there long.
A suicide bomb in Spain attracts the attention of a couple good-cop-bad-cop FBI wonks whose detective work is as spot-on as it is myopic. Samir teams up with an elite terrorist organization and proves his mettle by executing a bombing mission at the U.S. consulate in Nice. The job sets him up as the point man to orchestrate a multi-faceted suicide mission in the heartland designed to make Americans feel even more insecure than they already do.
Traitor is a thriller that plays with ambiguity as a suspense device to link its equally amoral characters. In this way, it’s a modern film noir that uses flashes of spectacle to blot out the shadows of lurking motivations that its characters hide. It’s unexpected to discover that comedian Steve Martin collaborated on the story Nachmanoff, whose vision for the film presages another generation of smart thrillers following on the heels of the Jason Bourne films and the groundbreaking Syriana. The common subtext is that we’re in way over our heads, genius. MTW