Background: Just when I thought we were done with these movies, along comes Steve Martin. Yes, the same Steve Martin, and the person who apparently came up with the idea for Traitor while he was acting opposite Queen Latifah in 2003's Bringing Down the House (no doubt Martin decided to name this movie after his agent). But hey, good for him for branching out in between Pink Panther sequels. At the helm is co-writer and director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who last penned The Day After Tomorrow. Leading the cast are Don Cheadle (Ocean's 13), Guy Pearce (Death Defying Acts), and Saïd Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner). Jeff Daniels (The Lookout) also shows up and successfully separates himself even further from his now somewhat shocking involvement in Dumb and Dumber.
Synopsis : Samir Horn (Cheadle), born in Sudan and raised in Chicago, is a devout Muslim working undercover as a detonator specialist. The only person who knows his true identity is Federal Agent Carter (Daniels), who helps him infiltrate a terrorist network masterminded by somebody named Hamzi. The problem is, Horn has to actually convince the terrorists that he will literally kill for their cause. Fortunately he's a great liar, and for months he successfully deceives both his Islamic fundamentalist partner Omar (Taghmaoui) and also FBI Agent Roy Clayton (Pearce), who along with his laser-eyed partner is trying to prevent Horn from carrying out Hamzi's horrific plan: simultaneous suicide bombers striking dozens of American buses over the Thanksgiving holiday.
+ The effort at a more positive portrayal of Islam. It didn't work, but I acknowledge the effort.
+ Guy Pearce, who it turns out has made little worth seeing in the last few years apart from The Preposition (which I actually didn't even see). He appears to have a lot in production the next year or so (including the upcoming Iraq War movie The Hurt Locker), but it remains to be seen if he can erase his performance in The Time Machine, one of the Five Worst Movies I've Ever Seen.
+ The globetrotting storyline, from Sudan to Los Angeles to Toronto to Chicago. Too bad none of it mattered. As a friend I was with mentioned afterwards, "Why bother taking us around to so many cities if we don't even get to see them?"
- The constant music. When there's subliminal mood music playing during 90% of the movie, you know some other element isn't as strong as it should be.
- The seemingly random decision to make half of the frame blurry in a number of scenes. Did I miss some symbolism there?
- Don Cheadle. It wasn't just that his "accent" was ridiculous, but it was frustrating to see him wasted as a lead here. It's tragic that so many people will have seen this movie and the Ocean's movies, while so few saw him just last year in Reign Over Me and, in an Oscar-worthy performance, Talk to Me.
- A minor error in geography that would have passed by unnoticed had Nachmanoff not made such a big deal out of it. At one point, Samir is being chased in Chicago, IL. Over and over and over we keep hearing that he's headed to an address at 128 South Randolph Avenue. Now it's no surprise that Randolph Avenue doesn't exist in Chicago, but there is a Randolph Street...in the nicest part of downtown, far from the projects on the South Side as shown in the movie. I know this is an insane criticism, and I know I had the same issues with 21, but I still think that if a filmmaker is going to drill a location and city into our heads so intentionally, and if the movie is obviously going to be seen by millions of people familiar with a major city, there's no reason to make such egregious geographical errors.
- How predictable the climactic bus scene was. Memo to Jeffrey Nachmanoff: people see a lot of movies, and for those of us who pay attention to detail (as you, directing the picture, also should), way too much was given away by your melodramatic camera work.
Writing - 8
Acting - 8
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 7
Music - 5
Social Significance - 5
Total: 40/50= 80% = B-
Last Word: I admit that my grievances with Traitor were petty, for the most part, and as an overall illustration of how religious zealots can "use" people to carry out violent acts, it's mostly successful. The real tragedy that I have yet to mention, however, is that the end result is all too familiar: the "peaceful" Muslim ends up being the exception and not the rule. In other words, the movie inadvertently equates Islam with terrorism so many times that the underlying opposite message is basically lost on the viewer. Poor acting and lazy, clichéd, just plain bad police procedural writing don't help matters.
I wouldn't be so bothered by Traitor's poor quality if it wasn't dealing with such important issues. As it exists now, it will be just another forgettable movie; the lasting images will unfortunately be of violent Muslims. A more even-handed approach, one that actually makes you think without bombarding you with action every 10 minutes, would probably result in a more memorable and much better film. Hmm, yes, maybe something like the vastly superior The War Within.