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by Nathan Zeno / 18.06.2009

When former U.S. Special Ops officer, Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) tries to explain to his girlfriend his reasons for planting a bomb, in the name of Islam, that destroys the American Embassy in Nice, killing eight (or six, depending on which story you believe) he uses the words, “It’s complicated”. And that pretty much sums up this very average film, starring Don Cheadle. Wait – I mean this film that would have been very average had it not starred Don Cheadle. The fact that he, a black man, plays the only really complex Muslim character is one thing; the fact that he plays the only complex character in the entire film is quite another.

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If Traitor starred anyone other than Cheadle it would be merely pedestrian. His performance is much more effective than that of Guy Pearce, who plays FBI agent Roy Clayton, and he convincingly raises the finer points of the ethics of war, both in conversation with Omar, the man who brings him into the organisation, and with Clayton. And while the title of the film seems to give away the ending, the constant shifts in relationships, all steered by Cheadle, keep you guessing. Without the subtly of his handling of the material, the denouement would come across way too tricksy.

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Overall, it’s an average film that paints too broadly the larger story devices and any character not played by Cheadle. It’s almost as if the director has rested the whole film on his shoulders and forgotten to find any nuances in the rest of the cast. It’s admirable that it tries to show that “Muslims are people too”, but ultimately it comes across as a by-the-numbers thriller complete with double and triple agents, bomb blasts, champagne revolutionaries and earnest girlfriends. Because it’s neither fully an action picture nor fully a nuanced meditation on the morality of making war, Traitor finally feels incomplete and not in a makes-you-think sort of way.

*Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
*Starring Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce

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