Action Movie with a Brain… Kind of

Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce

By Robert Patrick

Don Cheadle is a remarkably gifted actor who, despite his acceptance of sometimes bad screenplays, always comes off as an unabridged force of talent. He can be seemingly effable in the face of bigger star power, see the Ocean’s franchise, but the man is not just a unique supporting cog, he’s a dominant player in today’s cinema. In Traitor, Cheadle’s newest project, he plays an ex-soldier battling both religion and war. An archaic dichotomy that, no matter how many times we’ve seen it in civilization, always turns its troubled head again.

Samir Horn (Cheadle) is a shrouded figure with a muted past. A mastermind of explosives, well trained in hand-to-hand combat, and, worst of all, potentially troubled, our main character is a cloaked dagger in the black market. Horn is stoic, even contemptuous at times, but he still believes in his religious faith – something that his father, a religious man himself, instilled in him during a young age.

When terrorist activities emerge throughout the world, and end up threatening American soil, FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) plays his hand against a suspect Horn, since the Yemen born weapon seller is having his name dropped repeatedly by terrorist cells.

Unbeknownst to Clayton, our potential protagonist isn’t exactly what he seems, thus beginning a mysterious chase around the continent for answers.

Traitor, which deals with religion, most specifically the Koran and its followers, has a lot of heavy subject matter weighing down on its buckling knees. We are shown two different sides of the Muslim world, each faction believing wholly in their system of interpretation, while still being faithful to their god. This is a movie, no doubt, that will come under acclaim and dismissal, hatred and praise. It is, under its beefy action physique, a movie about morality, destiny, and belief. Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff is digging his fists deep into the sand of current events for this film, hands that sometimes let their goals slip through their fingers, but hands that still try all the same to build something of worth. The subject of suicide bombers has been made into a far superior movie with that of Paradise Now. Traitor, however, is a movie with more action than ideas, and strains to become relevant because of it, no matter how genuine it tries to be.

The biggest burden in this film, aside from the atrocious, sloth like pacing, is that of the writing. If people are doing dramatic things, such grappling with ideology, they probably don’t need bad one liners to help supplement their characteristics and goals, the actions should instead work on their own. Sometimes, when the movie is at its peak, Nachmanoff’s characters feel like real people dealing with society and faith. Most of the time, however, these people seem only content to be driven by stereotypical villain archetypes, archetypes that nullify any type of substantiated character build that they may have had up into that point. It’s hard to concentrate on the psychoanalysis of a person dealing with a crisis when they are reciting cheesy action movie dialogue.

The acting in the movie is better than it need be for such a forgettable script. Cheadle is great as the struggling journeyman, and Pearce is not terrible, which is more than he usually is for me. Jeff Daniels, who briefly co-stars in the film, is a bit too over the top, but he eventually serves his purpose during the climax.

All in all, Traitor is a decent movie that peters out somewhere between engaging and abhorrently pedestrian. I guess that makes it average. I only wish, that if in the future this director deals with such an important topic again, that he not be combative against his own goal to enlighten his audience.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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