TRAITOR didn’t do well enough at the box office back in 2008 to cover its outlay, and languishes now in relative obscurity among a host of lesser items in the overstuffed file marked “Action Thrillers, Terrorist Division”. The demotion, from Grade-A effort to Missing, Status Unknown could be a combination of elements: an unappealing title, a bombed-over field of play, a lead actor possessing talent, charm and respect to spare but with a limited crowd draw. Or it might be that this examination of the hard-to-read inside core of a multi-sided, generational and international conflict has, for a change, some heart and brains to go with its assault & battery. A good deal of that can trace to the smart guy who came up with the story and co-produced it, Steve Martin–yes, that Steve.
“You know that the Qu’ran says that if you kill an innocent person it’s as if you’ve killed all mankind?” *
Imprisoned in Yemen (no thanks) after an arms sale to a terrorist group is intercepted, devoutly Muslim, US-army-trained, Sudanese-American ‘Samir Horn’ (Don Cheadle) passes tough muster for entrance to the network, one Federal agents (led by Guy Pearce) are desperate to destroy. His bomb-making skills are put to the test, but to whom does his allegiance really belong? Watch director-screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s deft handling of the volatile material and find out.
The conversations are well-crafted and thoughtful, the action rough and grim but not ramped up with phony excess, with fine camerawork from J. Michael Muro thankfully not indulging in jittery nonsense. The editing doesn’t cheat and Mark Killian’s score ripples with tension. Locations include Marrakesh, Marseilles, Toronto, Chicago and London.
Cheadle gives another superior rendition of a complex individual, and his best scenes are with his immediate commander in the terrorist cell, played with his usual finessed intensity by Säid Taghmaoui. Pearce is good, affecting a Southern drawl this time out, though his yeoman FBI character isn’t much of a stretch really: the soulful Cheadle and raw-nerved Taghmaoui get the meatier material.
Nachmanoff and his assorted crews worked most efficiently, covering three continents and a slew of locales in 48 days on a relatively lean $22,000,000. Receipts only came to $27,664,000. A taut 114 minutes, with Neal McDonough, Jeff Daniels, Archie Panjabi and Alyy Khan.
* Detesting the horror tactics of religious maniacs with 12th-century ideas about women, a fondness for slavery and a genius at selecting the wrong passages to quote and fully agreeing they deserve the bullet train to Paradise doesn’t dissolve this patriot’s conviction that the coincidentally handy ‘War on Terror’ is one of the biggest crocks of crap ever smashed on the noggins of a gullible public. Boy that I be, since old enough to mount my play-fort in the back yard and swing a toy musket at the mustached guy on top of the imaginary scaling ladder, I’ve always been up for good old blood-lust-justifying action movies. A sense of proportion gnawing along with the 2+2=4 ability to discern actual threats to liberty vs. manufactured plots to close it down, at and in an age now where my voice counts even less than it did back when, mounting the couch-fort I do tend to be leery to beer-cheer and wave a Made-in-China flag at Generic Arabs:Bad—Team USA: Noble slop puked up by the shill’s basement level of The Complex. This well-paced & acted, intelligent & unsung, seek & shoot movie is one that at least pauses to take a breath before pulling the trigger. Too bad it’s make-believe.