Traitor is a film where the plot is less important than the actors involved in its creation. In this case, two great actors, Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce, get to play a game of chase, with Cheadle being a step or two ahead of Pearce for the majority of the film. Cheadle plays Samir, a man whose father was killed in a car bombing at the start of the film, although this scene is largely unrelated to the majority of the film.
Regardless, we see his father die, and so does a young Samir. He grows up to become an arms dealer for a bunch of Muslims. But during one of his deals, there is a raid and he is thrown in a Yemen prison — something you don’t want to have happen. Supposedly, you don’t get to leave a Yemen prison once you enter. Bring in Guy Pearce, as FBI Agent Roy Clayton, who offers Samir an escape; he just has to disclose where the weapons came from, and where they are headed. Samir says nothing, and is locked away for good.
However, it’s doubtful that a good movie would be made if our character had to stay in prison the entire time, (don’t get me wrong, prison dramas can be good, but this is not a prison drama), so he and his new friend Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) manage to escape and relocate. It’s here when the film actually picks up. Before this escape, Samir was only supplying terrorists with weapons. Afterward, he’s actively involved in using them. He doesn’t seem to like doing this, but he does anyway. Why? Well, it’s explained later on, but that would be spoiling what I believe is supposed to be a big revelation.
There’s one other big surprise that comes around later in the film, and it’s probably the best part of Traitor. Suffice to say that a suicide bombing doesn’t quite go as planned, and it’s all thanks to one person changing up what was supposed to happen. It’s very surprising when it happens, and I was actually shocked by it. I wasn’t surprised to learn the motivation of our protagonist, Samir, because it’s both hinted about earlier, and not all that big of a surprise to begin with.
Among all of the things that happen is a bunch of double-crossing and conspiracy that doesn’t always involve our main character. Usually it does, admittedly, but there are times when side-characters — and only side-characters — are used for this. The strength of the story comes from us not ever quite being sure who to trust, and why they’re acting the way they happen to be at the moment. After Samir kills 8 people in a bombing, he flinches like he’s disgusted with himself, but quickly states that he had hoped it would be more.
Traitor only really works when one of the three characters I’ve already mentioned appear on-screen, and only works all the time when Cheadle is there. Guy Pearce and Saïd Taghmaoui are both good actors, and the latter gets an interesting character, but neither characters are rich enough to carry the film. We’ve seen these kinds of characters before, especially when it comes to the FBI Agent character, and although Pearce plays his character well, he can’t stop it from seeming clichéd.
The most interesting thing about Traitor comes from the way that the terrorist organization that Samir becomes involved in is organized. These people are clever, they plan, and they make sure that everything will go properly before they do anything. It’s a good approach to showcase the group, even if their actions should be judged as horrific to the viewers. But they don’t come across that way because of how good a job director Jeffrey Nachmanoff does of letting us view how they operate and what they believe they are fighting for.
Sadly, the story doesn’t stay engaging the entire way through, meaning I lost interest about an hour into the film. Not enough to want to turn it off, because I was still enjoying watching these actors work, but I stopped caring and paying attention to the overall plot. I continued watching solely out of respect for the actors, and just to get a conclusion at the end. After you’ve invested an hour into something, if it’s only mediocre, but not terrible, you want to see it through to the end. That’s what happened here with me, which is a shame because there’s a lot more that could have been done with this premise.
I suppose the main reason I stopped caring was because I had figured out what Samir’s true intentions were far before the film told me. In fact, you may have guessed it just by reading this review, and for that, I’m sorry. But if you have guessed it, and are very sure in your assumption, then you have no real reason to watch Traitor, unless you want to know what the other surprise is near the film’s conclusion. But I don’t think that’s worth almost two hours of your life.
Traitor is a film that’s not bad, but just average. Apart from its actors and the depth given to the terrorist group featured within, there’s nothing special and nothing worth seeing. The story loses steam mid-way through, and the only reason I wanted to keep watching was the obligation I felt not only to the actors, but to myself — I needed to find out how it ended. But it wasn’t worth my time, and I don’t think it’s worth yours either. It’s not terrible, but it’s not that enjoyable of a watch either.
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