Director: Jeffery Nachmanoff
Producers: Don Cheadle, David Hoberman, Kay Liberman
Writers: Jeffery Nachmanoff, Steve Martin
Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pierce
Runtime: 114 minutes
2.5 out of 5 Stars
One of the many box-office bombs of the summer was the “X-Files” sequel, a film that I, unfortunately, paid money to see. What made this film so bad was its boring and uninspired story, despite the fact it had strong production values. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have “Traitor,” the latest film to tackle terrorism in the Middle East. The story is engaging, but the production values are well below average.
After serving the United States as an explosives expert in Afghanistan, former Special Operations Officer Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) has gone off the grid. Choosing to stay behind, he begins making shady deals with known terrorists. He catches the attention of FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pierce), who begins tracking Horn down across the world. But as Clayton delves deeper into Horn’s life, he learns of a man whose allegiances aren’t as clear as they seem.
In terms of story, “Traitor” shares many characteristics with 2006’s “The Departed.” The cat and mouse chase between Horn and Clayton is entertaining and will leave you wondering whose side people are really on.
However, unlike “The Departed,” the few plot twists are easy to see coming. While this seems like an unfortunate consequence of the concise story, it also means that director Jeffrey Nachmanoff didn’t force any unnecessary, contrived plot twists into the film, which is a very good thing. It’s a catch-22, but one I feel worked in his favor.
“Traitor’s” story also has one other interesting aspect – its look into the power of religion. A common theme is the Muslim faith and how it affects people differently. There are numerous conversations that depict the various interpretations of the Koran, adding a level of intellectualism that few films this year have offered. Also, it’s nice to see a film that deals with Middle Eastern politics taking advantage of its setting, unlike the slew of terrorism films last fall.
Much of “Traitor’s” story wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for the amazing acting abilities of Don Cheadle. The fact that he’s not a leading actor is a mistake and one that I hope gets corrected soon. His portrayal of Horn is fascinating – he’s a complex character and Cheadle is able to expertly balance all of Horn’s issues with style. What helps is Cheadle’s ability to pack so much emotion into one simple facial expression. The audience doesn’t need to listen to Horn’s words to understand what his character is feeling – it can be seen in Cheadle’s eyes. Guy Pierce, who plays opposite of Cheadle, plays the same character he did in 1997’s “L.A. Confidential” but with a southern accent. This is by no means a bad thing, but Pierce has a much broader range, and I wish he’d break out of the by-the-books good cop role.
But a strong script and solid performances can’t save “Traitor” from being muddled up in what might be some of the worst production I’ve seen this year. The first offender is the cinematography. Nachmanoff made a stylistic choice to use a shaky camera, hoping to simulate the action being filmed by a handheld camera. The idea is that it makes for a more immersive experience, something along the lines of this year’s “Cloverfield,” but it actually just gives you a headache. It’s not even tolerable during action scenes, let alone the slow mov