Filmgoers looking for “Traitor” to be an alternative to the raunchy comedies that continue to dominate the theaters will find a well-polished, well-intentioned political thriller. However, all of the good intentions and good production values still result in an ultimately hollow experience.
Director and screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Steve Martin, who wrote the story together, surely deserve praise for portraying the Islamic religion with a sensitivity and complexity not often seen in modern political thrillers. The faith of Samir Horn (another solid performance by the always superb Don Cheadle) is never in doubt even as the audiences question the motivations behind his actions. It’s these actions, which involve committing a series of major terrorist attacks against Americans, that may make audiences apprehensive in embracing the character. The filmmakers never in the least suggest that the terrorists are in the right, let alone that they represent Islam as a whole, but they spend so much time portraying them working out and implementing their plans like some sort of anarchic “Ocean’s Eleven”, that viewers may start wondering if they are supposed to be rooting for them.
The other side is represented by FBI agents Roy Clayton and Max Archer (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough, respectively), who are following Horn’s trail. Clayton, in particular, provides a nice counterpoint to Horn, being the son of a Baptist preacher as well as having a Ph.D. in Arabic studies. Jeff Daniels also stands out in a small but pivotal role (seriously, any attempt to describe it would result in major spoilage).
The score by Mark Kilian (Rendition) adds just the right amount of tension to the proceedings, and the numerous global locations (including Yemen, France and Nova Scotia, to name a few) puts even “The Bourne…” series to shame. It’s great to see a suspense thriller that feels like an actual movie after many that feel just like long “Law and Order” episodes.
In the end, however, audiences may be wondering along with the characters whether the choices they made along the way were justified. After a summer of action films like “The Dark Knight” that raised a lot of the same questions, but in a cartoonish environment, viewers will be glad to see these questions being raised in a real-life atmosphere. They just might be hoping the filmmakers actually provided some semblence of answers to those questions.