Tackling terrorism on screen is a dicey proposition, often resulting in a push-pull dynamic of trying to make an entertaining crowd-pleaser that nevertheless can’t forget its civic duty to present its ugly subject matter in an honest and illuminating light. Traitor tries for that line drive right down the middle and, consequently, ends up as a middle-of-the-road movie. Don Cheadle (who also co-produced) stars as Samir Horn, born of an American mother and a Sudanese father. Understandably haunted by the childhood memory of watching Pop blown up by a car bomb, the Muslim-American Samir is now an international arms dealer who becomes mixed up with a fanatical Middle Eastern outfit plotting the usual death and destruction against American civilians. With his quick-tempered partner Max Archer (Neal McDonough) in tow, FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) chases Samir across the globe with all the zeal of Inspector Javert hoofing it after Jean Valjean, not realizing there’s more to his quarry than he initially believes. Operating from a story he co-wrote with Steve Martin, director Jeffrey Nachmanoff works hard to present Samir Horn as what most Americans will consider that most outrageous of characters: a sympathetic terrorist. It’s a risky approach aided by Cheadle’s understated performance, but it’s rendered null and void by a twist that largely turns this into a standard thriller. Still, the film is overall more thoughtful than jingoistic, even if it does little to advance audience understanding of the War on Terror and its multi-tentacled morality plays.
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