“The truth is complicated.”
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Cast: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Archie Panjabi
Synopsis: When straight arrow FBI agent Roy Clayton heads up the investigation into a dangerous international conspiracy, all clues seem to lead back to former U.S. Special Operations officer, Samir Horn.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS!
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s terrorist thriller Traitor is the way in which it refuses to demonise the terrorists whose ranks are infiltrated by undercover agent Samir Horn (Don Cheadle – Ocean’s Twelve, Flight). They are all depicted as intelligent and practical men of purpose, which must surely be a closer proximity to the truth than Hollywood’s standard wild-eyed, excitable depiction designed to calm the man on the street into believing they really are barely human at all. Omar (Said Taghmaoui – Hidalgo, American Hustle), Horn’s comrade-in-terror, is painted as a sincere and pragmatic man. He is rational and level-headed. He believes as completely and unquestioningly in his religious/political ideology as a man of the cloth believes in the existence of God, and displays – up to a point that is clearly defined with impeccable logic by his masters – an admirable loyalty towards Horn. And yet he is a man who is deeply involved in the planning and execution of the wholesale slaughter of ordinary people. It’s a shame that Nachmanoff, who also wrote the screenplay (from a story he devised with the comedian Steve Martin, of all people) didn’t care to delve a little deeper into the background of easily the film’s most intriguing character.
Like Omar, Horn is a devout Muslim. Unlike Omar, he’s one of the good guys, although the film doesn’t reveal this (to those who haven’t already figured it out) for some time. In fact, Horn is so deep undercover that only his boss, Carter (Jeff Daniels – 2 Days in the Valley, 101 Dalmatians) knows his true identity. This is bad news for both men, because one of the unwritten rules of moviemaking is that whenever only one person is aware of an undercover agent’s true identity, that person will lose their life within 27 minutes of the viewer receiving this particular nugget of information. Needless to say, Carver duly buys it, leaving Horn out in the cold in an apparently irretrievable position and with intrepid CIA agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce – L.A. Confidential, In Her Skin) in hot pursuit.
There’s a lot to like about Traitor, even though a cursory reflection upon what we’ve seen brings to light any number of plot holes. It’s fast-paced, but it doesn’t gloss over the kind of details that add flesh to the bones of a story. Cheadle, who rarely wins parts of real worth, is effective in the role of a man who finds his conscience sorely troubled by the evils he must commit in the name of good, and it’s refreshing to see a Muslim as the hero in a movie about terrorism – or anything else for that matter. The story does take liberties with reality in order to drive itself along, though, with Horn and his cohorts apparently trotting the globe at will despite being wanted terrorists. Nachmanoff shows enough sense to refrain from an altogether happy ending, but is forced to strain the audience’s credulity to its limits in order to extract Horn from the predicament into which he’s been placed. Worth a look.
(Reviewed 15th May 2015)