Don Cheadle stars as a Somali terrorist in the latest movie to use the war on terror as thriller material. Unsurprisingly it's full of twists and turns that play upon the fleeting and difficult nature of 'intelligence', and the moral conflicts that come with the face of between two forthright cultures infused with religious fervour. More surprising, however, is that the movie is actually good!
It has a similar feel to Body of Lies, with its fast paced editing, constant guessing games as to who is on whose side and the shouty agents who always know what's best. But by focussing on the terrorist and not the agent Traitor allows itself to be a bit different. The people usually appropriated as the 'bad guys' are fleshed out and given real motivations, for example Samir (Cheadle) witnesses the death of his father in the first scene of the film, an event that will colour his view of events from then on, and terrorist ringleader Nathir's detachment from the work of his underlings is emphasized by his opulent lifestyle in London. All of this adds up to a welcome attempt to shine the spotlight away from America.
Of course a big part of the success of this film would rest on Don Cheadle's ability to portray a Somali terrorist. Here's a guy whose career has spanned some real howlers (Volcano anyone?) but also encompassed some outstanding performances (Hotel Rwanda has to have a mention), but an Arabic-speaking Somali terrorist is a real challenge. I have to say that for the large part Samir's character is a success. Cheadle breaks out the Arabic a few times so as not to look too suspect, and the switch to English when among the intellectuals behind the terrorist groups and among foreigners in England and the US is far less clunky than it could perhaps have been.
Supporting performances Said Taghmaoui and Raad Rawi were equally strong as terrorist comrades, while FBI agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) were passably gung-ho without straying too far into pork-product territory. Though a couple of scenes came perilously close as they yelled bullishly at their captives or came into conflict with government bureacracy. Jeff Daniels is also surprisingly palatable as another agent who is thrown into the fray.
Overall this is a different enough spin on the already well-trodden ground of middle-eastern conflict movies to be entertaining, and has enough clever twists and turns to be a gripping thriller. It's no life-changing experience, nor does it offer great insight into the political situation, but it's a good solid movie that's entertaining without being glib about real issues. That's a great achievement in my books.
EXTRAS ** An audio commentary with director Nachmanoff and star Cheadle; an Action! Featurette; an Exotic Locations Featurette; the trailer.