Thursday, September 25, 2008


Traitor is a competently well-made, well-acted, and moderately exciting if ultimately unremarkable little espionage thriller. It straddles a slightly uncomfortable line between a suspense flick with brief bursts of vaguely Bourne-esque action and a heavier sort of sociopolitical element, but is entertaining enough for the duration of its runtime even if I doubt I'll ever watch it again.

Don Cheadle plays a United States operative on a years-long mission - so secret only one man knows he works for the USA - going deep undercover with a terrorist cell to unravel and compromise them from within. However he is relentlessly pursued by an FBI agent played by Guy Pearce (who doesn't know Don Cheadle is working for the States) and grapples with the moral dilemma of keeping his eye on the big picture, having to go along with terrorist plots and collateral damage to stay undercover.

As I mentioned, there's a Bourne flavor to some of the proceedings, with the narrative following our protagonist largely on the run and cutting away now and then to the room of operatives discussing him, reading over files about him, debating how best to pursue him. There's some chase scenes, there's some fight scenes, guns are fired. It's fairly well done and although the movie builds a touch slowly in the first act the climax is exciting.

It's the sociopolitical element I found a little bit stilted in a couple of ways. Don Cheadle's character is a devout Muslim, you see, and the movie treats the fact that he's both a Muslim AND a US operative trying to dismantle the terrorist cell like it's some kind of stunning revelation. And he has a "friend" in the terrorist cell and the movie also seems a little too convinced it's making a bold statement by having the terrorist actually be a person with (however twisted) motivations rather than a cartoon supervillain.

While Don Cheadle is a terrific actor and sells the drama of these situations about as well as anyone could have, I don't think the fact that not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are motivation-free cartoon villains will be a revelation to anyone who doesn't regularly attend NASCAR events.

That said, the movie isn't terrible by any stretch, nor is it great. I'd say that any big thriller fans could Netflix it and enjoy it, because Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce do carry it and the final twenty minutes or so are pretty cool, but keep expectations modest.

2 Stars out of 5

No comments: