Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Don Cheadle, Guy
Pearce, Said Taghmaoui, Neal McDonough, Alyy Khan, Jeff Daniels
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
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.”
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.
At this point, Blu-ray owners are getting the absolute best advantage with this release. Though it was released with a re-formatted aspect ratio for its DVD release, the Blu-ray release thankfully has the correct widescreen ratio at 2.40:1, allowing the film to be experienced as it was intended. And the image quality is most outstanding! Consisting of multiple types of film stock, most notably washed out whites in the Middle East sequences, the picture is strong and effective from beginning to end.
The TrueHD soundtrack is phenomenally explosive, making this already tension-filled thriller even more intense. For one thing, we get a good number of explosions in the film, and those scenes are worth the price of this disc alone. Dialogue delivery and music playback are also handled tremendously. If anything, the sound presentation will do a great job of helping the movie grab you and pull you into the action.
Same as with the standard DVD, the Blu-ray features 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.
Also included is a Bonus disc containing a Digital Copy of the film.
Traitor was a film that flew under the radar late last summer and I hope will garner a much bigger audience, thanks mostly to this stunning Blu-ray presentation. 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!