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TRAITOR

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Said Taghmaoui, Neal McDonough, Alyy Khan, Jeff Daniels
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2008

“Remember who you answer to.”

“I answer to God. We all do.”

Film ***1/2

When we film reviewers engage in composing our personal best film list at the end of the year, it’s always fun creating neat little sub-categories. For me, Traitor easily gets mentioned in two of those categories. It’s both one of the most underrated films of the year and one of the most surprising.

The film is an inspired mixing of the Bourne movies and Syriana. Only this time around, we are placed right in the shoes of a lead character whose loyalties are very unclear. That story element alone makes this globetrotting thriller a most fantastic experience.

Would it surprise you if I told you that one of the screenwriters was none other than Steve Martin? It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Martin is a veteran screenwriter, but never have I seen his name associated with such dark and unnerving material. Another surprise is the fact that co-writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff only previous writing credit was The Day After Tomorrow, making this a strong upgrade as far as quality is concerned.

The story opens in Sudan, where a young Muslim boy named Samir witnesses before his eyes a car bombing, killing his father. Cut to present day, where Samir (Don Cheadle) has become a freelance maker and seller of explosives to whichever terrorist group is in need of them. Following a deal in Yemen, Samir is nabbed and taken into FBI custody.

The arresting FBI agents, Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Archer (Neal McDonough), are willing to cut a deal. If Samir gives up the names of any high profile buyers, he will get little to no jail time. But he refuses and remains jailed in Yemen.

While in prison Samir befriends Omar (Said Taghmaoui), his business partner from the deal gone bad. Omar sees a loyal, brother-like figure in Samir, since he didn’t give him up to the FBI. After setting up and executing a prison escape, Omar asks Samir to join him in his terrorist cell.

Samir is soon brought face to face with the leader of the cell, Fareed Mansour (Alyy Khan), who is ranked pretty high on the FBI’s most wanted list. Just as Samir is welcomed into their clan, Fareed reveals a plot to attack on U.S. soil. The plan: to detonate 30 city buses in different cities at the exact same time. 

While Samir is getting in deeper with the terrorist cell, agent Clayton is trying to find out what he can about the mysterious Samir. It is revealed that he was a Special Former soldier before becoming a bomb expert. According to friends and family, Samir is a man of deep religious faith, causing Clayton to become even more confused about his current ties.

It’s very difficult to delve into further story developments without giving away numerous twists and turns, which Traitor has plenty of. Basically, the entire second half of the movie is one knock out of a story turn after another, before executing a finale that includes an explosive surprise that I honestly didn’t see coming. It’s not the kind of surprise twist that puts a whole new spin on the movie, like so many twist endings, but rather a shocking resolution to a serious problem, which had me damn near applauding.

Don Cheadle continues his ever growing resume of tremendous performances. He’s about the best actor one could hope to have play a character with inner conflictions. And Cheadle is superb in never giving a hint as to where his character’s loyalties lie.

Guy Pearce is an actor I always look forward to seeing in just about anything. Though he doesn’t occupy as much screen time as Cheadle, he does manage to squeeze some depth into his role of agent Clayton. The film also boasts strong supporting performances from Neal McDonough, Alyy Khan and Jeff Daniels, who only has a few scenes but is quite strong in each of them.

Traitor is a tension filled time bomb of a movie from beginning to end. It’s also a super intelligent one as well, which is always a great ingredient. In an age when so many movies like this feel the need to spoon feed so much to the audience, it’s most refreshing to see one where the viewer’s intelligence isn’t insulted at all.

Video **1/2

Having seen the film in its theatrical run, I was rather disappointed that the DVD release was going to feature a re-formatted aspect ratio. I don’t know what the reason for this was, but nonetheless the wide 2.40:1 image has been reduced to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. As it stands, the image quality is actually well rendered, with the anamorphic picture appearing strong in detail and colors. I’m guessing this gimmick was done to inspire avid disc collectors to convert to Blu-ray, since the BD release contains the correct aspect ratio.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix is tremendous in enhancing this already intense film. There are many explosions in the film, all of which sound nothing short of fantastic. Music score and dialogue delivery are also very well handled in the presentation.

Features **

Included on this Anchor Bay release is a nice commentary with writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and star Don Cheadle, as well as two very brief featurettes; “Action: The Stunts and Special Effects of Traitor” and “International Espionage”, which covers the film’s various location shootings.

Summary:

Traitor was a film that flew under the radar late last summer and I hope will garner a much bigger audience now that it has hit DVD. It’s a most rewarding view for those hungry for a massively intelligent and surprising political thriller. It represents top of the line filmmaking all across the boards!

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