Starring Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, and Said Taghmaoui
Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences, thematic material, and brief language
Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s Traitor is an uncommonly intelligent, breathlessly exciting espionage thriller, with a strong emphasis on the word “thriller”. Sprawling across Europe, Eastern U.S.A. and the country of Yemen, Traitor is marvelously written, beautifully photographed, and phenomenally well-acted. Despite a few irrelevant flaws, I would venture to say it’s among the best films of the summer.
After seeing his father killed in a terrorist car bombing as a young teen, Samir Horn has dedicated his life to protecting people. When we first meet him, however, this is not the case. Imprisoned in Yemen for betraying the Sudanese government, Samir soon befriends Omar, who is a suicide bomber. He uses Samir’s bomb-making expertise to arm bombs that will explode in U.S. embassies or other gathering places.
The plot is somewhat ingenious in the way it sides with the terrorists at first and then turns the tables. I will not speak anymore about this, only to say that, instead of taking the easy way out, Traitor consistently surprises with unexpected developments. One scene could have turned into a shootout, but instead becomes something more and deeper. The whole film is like that. The turning point of Samir and Omar’s plot (which I would not dare to reveal) is as smart and provocative, as it is unpredictable and darkly humorous.
The performances are stellar across the board, with Don Cheadle leading the way in an intensely low-key performance reminiscent of Matt Damon in the Bourne films. Cheadle envelops his character in sadness and sheer believability. Samir Horn is a flawed human being, not just an action star, and that’s hard to come by. Cheadle is helped by a superb supporting cast, including Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough, and (perhaps the best) Said Taghmaoui as Omar.
A couple sentences ago, I used the term “action star,” which implies that Traitor is an action movie. It’s much more, believe me. In the vein of recent “terrorism thrillers,” I would choose Traitor over, say, The Kingdom any day. The only resemblance between them is the advertisement for each. Although I liked The Kingdom, the trailer promised bundles of repetitive action near the end, and that’s what I got, effective though it was.
On the other hand, with Traitor it was different. I was promised tight, taut action sequences, and really, there were quite few. Traitor is much more thoughtful than most might think. Yes, the action is very exciting when it comes, the intensity of the highest order, but what works above all is the idea of a traitor in the midst, not just the tactics of how to catch the traitor. Traitor deals with both sides of the equation—the good guys trying to figure out who the leak is, and the bad guys trying to evade the good guys.
I expected nothing more than excitement from Traitor, but what I got instead was enthrallment. It’s one of the best films this summer, and possibly, the whole year.