By Skylaire Alfvegren
Review in a Hurry: A Muslim American bomb-making expert takes a globetrotting and tight-lipped trip through the world of Islamic terrorism. While not exactly stoking anti-Islamic paranoia, but with grim implications, it tweaks the definitions of counter-terrorism and espionage while leaving the sexiness to Bond and the tautness to Bourne.
The Bigger Picture: Talk about a personality crisis. We meet Samir Horn (Don Cheadle), the son of an American mother and Sudanese father, brokering bomb detonators in Yemen to a group of Islamic extremists. Nearly killed in an explosion, he faces life in Yemeni prison where the FBI comes to question him. Who is he working for? Who is he selling to? He won’t answer, and for most of the film, we don’t know, either.
After escaping with fellow prisoner, the militant Omar (Said Taghmaoui), Horn is embraced by Omar’s terrorist cell, which has connections in the United States, England, France and the Middle East. The taciturn Sudanese-born American exchanges the bomb-making skills he picked up while fighting in Afghanistan for what appears to be an extremist, extended holiday. Or is it?
A minister ‘s son with a PhD in Arab Studies, it’s presumed FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) can infiltrate Horn’s mind to a degree the CIA can’t—as it’s never explained why the FBI is conducting an international investigation, nor is it clear why Horn is repeatedly met by shadowy American agent Carter (Jeff Daniels), complicit in the attacks Horn has helped mastermind. By extension, is the film implying the U.S. government has been party to terrorist attacks at home and abroad? Or is Traitor the first American movie with a Muslim hero? Viewers are left to connect the plot in between explosions and terrorist caricatures until the last quarter of the film, when we’re left wondering if the ends justified the means.
The 180 — A Second Opinion: While some attempt is made to get into the minds of Islamic terrorists (co-opting the Martin Luther King quote, “if a man hasn’t found something he’s willing to die for, he’s not fit to live”), Traitor is like PBS doing 24.