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TRAITOR (director/writer: Jeffrey Nachmanoff; screenwriter: story by Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Steve Martin; cinematographer: J. Michael Muro; editor: Billy Fox; music: Mark Kilian; cast: Don Cheadle (Samir Horn), Guy Pearce (Roy Clayton), Jeff Daniels (Carter), Neal McDonough (Max Archer), Saïd Taghmaoui (Omar), Archie Panjabi (Chandra Dawkin), Lorena Gale (Dierdre Horn), Aly Kahn (Fareed), Raad Rawi (Nathir), Farid Regragui (Wadi); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: David Hoberman/Don Cheadle/Kay Liberman/Todd Lieberman/Chris McGurk/Danny Rosett/ Jeffrey Silver; Overture Films; 2008)
“Limps home to the finish without suspense.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

Writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (“Hollywood Palms”) bases his terrorist thriller on an idea by comedian Steve Martin. It’s determined to make Islamist jihad paranoia into Hollywood entertainment and show America’s war-on-terror heroics in a passably good light (like hooray for the Patriot Act as a tool to fight terrorism). When the film’s big secret over a counter-espionage operation is revealed, all the air is let out of the bag and the film limps home to the finish without suspense. It’s also filled with some muddled philosophizing, cliched characters, overwrought life lesson messages, and enough quotes from the Koran to give one the false impression that it’s up to speed on the Islamic religion. If it weren’t for Don Cheadle’s nuanced performance humanizing his terrorist character, this somber film would have blown up in its face.

Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) is the son of an American mother and a Sudanese father and is a former Army Special Forces explosives expert who is now an arms dealer selling to terrorist groups in Muslim countries. The turncoat devout Muslim, with a hangdog expression, gets jailed in Yemen during a police raid of an arms deal going down, but escapes from a Yemen prison thanks to befriending a fellow prisoner named Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) and is then recruited by him into an unnamed al Qaeda-like terrorist group. Samir’s now hunted by dedicated and tolerant FBI man Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and his gung-ho intolerant partner Max Archer (Neal McDonough) in an international chase that takes them to Spain, France, England, the States and Canada. In every one of those countries Carter (Jeff Daniels) shows his face only to reveal himself as a mid-level CIA operative who has a secret deal going down with Samir and is there to convince him that it’s okay to kill a few to save many. Carter further encourages Samir to keep the faith and to keep putting the bombs together for the terrorist group who are determined to make bomb attacks on certain targets on U.S. soil, and is wishfully told that he will be doing a great service for his country by cracking this sleeper terrorist cell.

The politically lightweight film comes with many plot twists that leads up to a massive Thanksgiving Day attack on U.S. soil that will be greater than 9/11, but no real surprises as to the outcome. That Samir gets invited into the terrorist organization’s inner sanctum and then has a chance to redeem himself by turning against the bad guys, also shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the thriller template. The villains are the usual despicable ones and the hero, even in this case, doesn’t deviate much from either the Bond or Bourne type, except this film isn’t that much fun as it takes its nonsense way too seriously. The only insights I got about terrorists are that it doesn’t take much of an effort to recruit a suicide bomber or much of an effort for Hollywood to exploit America’s post-9/11 fears over a jihad attack on its soil.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”