- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Overture Films
Reviewed by David Medsker
ou can see why the actors were attracted to the material in “Traitor.” It’s “Deep Cover” crossed with “The Fugitive,” and explores the subject of Islamic radicalism. Touchy stuff, to be sure, and there are moments in the movie that sent chills through the crowd. The problem is that, as the “‘Deep Cover’ meets ‘The Fugitive’” bit suggests, you’ve already seen this movie many times before. The only difference between “Traitor” and its predecessors is that the other movies spent more time in focus. They also didn’t spend so much time trying to ramp up the tension during scenes where nothing is happening.
Don Cheadle is Samir Horn, a weapons dealer who’s looking to make a deal with a terrorist group in Yemen when military forces stop the deal and throw all survivors of the bust in jail. During his time in jail, Samir befriends Omar (Said Taghmaoui), the right-hand man of Samir’s potential buyer, and Omar soon organizes a jailbreak that springs them along with several of Omar’s men. Samir returns the favor by assisting Omar and his group on a bombing in Paris, but two FBI agents who met Samir in the Yemen jail are hot on his tail to put him away for good. What Omar and the FBI don’t know is that Samir is working undercover – and completely off the books – for a high-ranking US Government official named Carter (Jeff Daniels), and is in fact trying to bring Omar’s group down.
The life of a double agent is indeed a fascinating one, and the moral ambiguity that comes with the territory is magnified tenfold when you bring religion into the mix. Cheadle’s Samir takes his obligation to God very seriously, which leads to a scene of him so distraught that I was waiting for him to yank on a sink and smash it to the floor, à la Dewey Cox in “Walk Hard.” And that is the problem with using religion as a plot device; to the viewer, that is all it will ever be, so no matter how powerful the moment is supposed to be, the viewer will always be a step or two removed from it. The religious angle also paves the way for lots of moralizing, which comes in thankfully small doses, but those doses appear out of nowhere and often out of context with the scene.
Still, Cheadle is as likable as actor as there is in Hollywood these days, and a smart choice for the role of Samir. Guy Pearce gamely plays the role of Sam Gerard to Cheadle’s Richard Kimble, using a Texas accent and everything (a nod to Tommy Lee Jones, perhaps?). The acting is actually pretty solid across the board, which is unexpected from relatively inexperienced director Jeffrey Nachmanoff. If only he had quit going out of focus for the sake of being arty – it’s more distracting than anything – and resisted the urge to ramp up the most mundane scenes with fake tension. Samir hails a cab, then rides the subway, and all the while the soundtrack’s thumping away in full chase mode. Sometimes, a cab ride is just a cab ride, people.
“Traitor” is a competent entry into the undercover cop genre, but inserting Islamic terrorists in the place of a mobster, or a drug dealer, does not shake things up the way the filmmakers seem to think it will. It’s well-done, and respectful, but in the end it’s just another undercover cop movie.