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Traitor

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Traitor

Release Date: Aug. 27

Director: Jerry Nachmanoff

Writers: Jerry Nachmanoff (screenplay), Jerry Nachmanoff and Steve Martin (story)

Cinematographer: J. Michael Muro

Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce,Saïd Taghmaoui

Studio/Run Time: Overture Films, 113 mins.

One of the classic film plots is the story of the double-agent, the person that works for the other side so long that they eventually become what they’re fighting against.Traitor takes this concept and attempts to update it for the 21st century.  Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn, a former U.S. Special Ops agent with heavy experience in explosives.He’s used by a possibly-rogue F.B.I. agent to infiltrate a group of Islamic terrorists, with his own religious devotion acting as both a cover and a curse throughout his time.But as the film’s title suggests, he’s a traitor to at least one group, and when the film is at its best, it's hard to say which group he's betraying.

But unlike the classic cop-and-criminal-are-the-same-thing metaphor this formula relies on, the insistence that there’s a central relationship between terrorists and anti-terrorist law enforcement falls a little flat.This causes the entire half of the story devoted to the United States’ hunt for Samir, who it believes to be a terrorist, to be unnecessary and off target when compared with the story of Samir’s inner conflicts of religion and devotion.Unfortunately, the film keeps the gloves on when it comes to religion and does little to take down the “all Muslims are terrorists” cliché that it wishes to remove. Aside from Samir, who comes across as a black sheep in the world of Muslisms, every Islamic character in the film isa terrorist. 

The flawed plot and politically awkward moments are tempered, though, by the strength of Cheadle’s performance. As Samir, he embodies the best of both the Middle East and the States, and his personal story steals the show from the somewhat absurd political machinations that lie in the background.When Traitor’s plot kicks into high-budget formula time, his performance keeps things grounded and holds the film together.For years now, Cheadle has been giving stirring, understated performances, but this may be his strongest work yet.

Traitor feels like a missed opportunity.Both its directing, shot by Jeffrey Nachmanoff in a slow and considered pace to give it a contrasting feel of realism, and its acting, are a step above the premise.Cheadle’s performance alone can’t save the feature from falling into ridiculousness, but he is able to pull things back up. When he does so, the result is, for a few moments, as thoughtful as the rest of the film could have been.

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