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Aug 28, 2008

Fletch's Film Review: Traitor

In this Holy War on Terror, can there ever be a "winner" and a "loser," or are all parties both? In the name of God (or Allah), to what end are the soldiers of these wars winning to fight, and through what means? Does God overlook death when it is carried out in his name, and who can be classified an "innocent victim" and who can't? Without mentioning the words "War on Terror" or "Iraq" (amongst others not mentioned), these are the questions that Traitor seeks to answer, or at least explore, all while acting as more of a straight up drama/actioner than the more blatantly politically-minded Syriana.

Based on a story by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin), Traitor stars Don Cheadle as Samir Horn, a man torn between two contrasting worlds. Born to a Sudanese father and American mother, the Muslim Horn bounced all over the world as a child and teen, picking up on the vast differences between the Middle East and the West. Despite never really knowing who to believe ideologically, Horn joined the American military after high school in Chicago, though after a tour with Special Forces in Afghanistan, he stayed behind, leaving his superiors questioning where his loyalties lied.

From there, Traitor takes you on a Bourne-like jaunt around the world, from Yemen to Marseilles to London, Toronto, D.C. and just about everywhere in between, as Samir, who is making his way into a terrorist cell, is simultaneously hunted down by the FBI (in the form of Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) while serving as an asset to another Washington insider played by Jeff Daniels. Said Taghmaoui (Three Kings) also co-stars as Samir's friend/colleague in the terror cell.

Despite excellent acting and a taut, twisting narrative, Traitor eventually, um, betrayed me (couldn't help it). Early on, the sharp script takes some solid swipes at both the US and religious extremists. First, Pearce's agent remarks on the two-headed nature of all religions (citing the KKK as an example, where those that burned the crosses and those that cleaned up the mess both did their tasks in the name of God). Later, Samir's superior (Aly Khan) in the terror cell reminds the American audience watching that, once upon a time, the US could have been classified as little more than terrorists against England. The criticism is biting and true; as Samir attempts to point out to a number of characters throughout the film (and is something I try to do as well), what one sees as extreme or fanatical is largely dependent upon what shoes one is wearing. Having lived in both environments and being capable of "blending" into either, Samir understands this more than most.

However, the film sells out its soul in the midst of coming to its conclusion. Sure, both sides of the "war on terror" may be wrong, but perhaps the US side is just a bit more right, the film says. Leaving the film as the unfinished story it is might have angered some, but pandering is worse.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin!"

Final, unorganized thoughts:

* Though I was disappointed with the ending, I still enjoyed Traitor and would recommend it. The sad part is that that may be difficult. Marketing for it is all but invisible, and despite the fact that the Olympics are over, it was dumped to open on a Wednesday at the end of August. While it may not get the critical acclaim of either Bourne or Syriana, I feel that it at least deserved a chance. This is made all the more bizarre when you consider the appeal (if not star power) of the faces most recognizable to North American audiences (Cheadle, Pearce, Daniels). Hopefully, it will do better in the world market, but with it's pro-American finale, that may not be in the cards.

* It's funny that a discussion about billing (and movie posters) broke out in the comments today, as last night Mrs. Fletch and I were discussing the poster seen above. She was upset that Taghmaoui (a favorite of ours and future FF-UN candidate) isn't featured on it. I told her that it is indeed a shame (he easily has the 2nd most screen time after Cheadle) but is not surprising at all given that even I (a "name that actor/movie" geek) couldn't even recall his name prior to looking it up, and I really like the guy. Perhaps he'll get some love in his native France when it opens there.

* Also, Mrs. Fletch had an idea for an additional rating system here, and if it will do any service to others out there with motion sickness, I'm all for helping. Thus, I present you with The Dramamine Scale, to be given in terms of the number of Dramamine that people who hated The Blair Witch Project for fear of vomit might want to take prior to seeing a given film (either zero, one or two pills). Due to a fair share of shaky cam but more so because of the film's tightly shot style, Traitor receives TWO PILLS on the Dramamine Scale.

5 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Traitor"

Mrs Fletch said...

The ending didn't bother me nearly as much as it did you. Most movies tend to wrap things up in a neat little bow at the end, I guess I'm kinda used to that by now.

There are still a ton of great reasons to see this movie. With Dramamine in hand, of course.

And yes, Said Taghmaoui should TOTALLY have been featured on the poster. His role had more screen time and way more depth than a lot of the other peeps who are on there.

Steve said...

Weird, I hadn't heard much about it. Will check it out this weekend. It HAS to be better than House Bunny or Death Race.

Reel Ninja said...

Cant wait to see this one. Great review Dylan!

Daniel G. said...

This is a really good review, Fletch. One that almost makes me want to like it more than I did. I have no fault with the positives that you pull out from it aside from the acting and the story, which I thought were wooden and highly predictable, respectively.

Speaking of Dramamine, I was literally in the front row, center. Got over it after a few minutes, though.

I'd give it an A- for effort and C+ for execution. Still need to review...