ENTERTAINMENT/FILM

A BLACK MAN’S REVIEW OF … “TRAITOR”

TRAITOR (PG-13)

Biases:

If it’s starring Don, it’s gotta be smart, brainy entertainment.

Major Players:

Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff

Logline:

Former US Army Special Forces soldier, explosives expert, and devout Muslim Samir Horne (Cheadle) is either a Semtex-providing, terrorist-enabling traitor or the deepest cover operator the country has in the war on terror, having cozied up to a bin Ladenesque Jihadist cell while being doggedly tracked by FBI agents Clayton (Pearce) and Archer (Neal McDonough).

The Deal:

Finally, an action hero lead for Don-Don! Longtime wall fixture, Don Cheadle seems to be one of the more talented, professional, innately intelligent actors working today. Is there ever a scene in which Cheadle doesn’t look as if he’s in full command of his instrument? Whether executing effortless stage combat or powerfully transmitting the gravity of his faith via a simple line like, “I answer to God. We all do,” Cheadle’s action hero debut is matched beautifully with strong, complex material.

Said material is provided by relative feature newcomer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who provides unassuming but professional direction girded by a solid, layered, globetrotting (Marseilles, Nice, Yemen, DC, London, LA, Chitown…you get the picture) script. For the most part, each character appears to be three-dimensional, particularly the motivations of the terrorists who, while easily demonized in a jingoistic, politically charged American election season, are believably portrayed as freedom fighters with a dedicated, austere belief system all their own. Nachmanoff’s script casually splashes around the Gray Zone, from the rationalizations of the FBI agents going far beyond either myopic patriotism or blind sense of duty to the true character of Samir “I don’t feel at home anywhere” Horne. Is he in subterranean cover or has he truly succumbed to the Dark Side? With the way his character is set up (father killed in Sudanese car bomb as a child, high school misfit, US Special Forces until disappearing into a two-decade rabbit hole of sporadic armed conflicts and regional rebellions) and the way Cheadle pulls him off, Samir plausibly could be a misunderstood or this movie’s title. An angular, well-scrubbed Guy Pearce gives a cagey, thoughtfully forceful, drawling performance as the type of Fibbie I certainly hope is the rule rather than the exception: the guy who thinks before he speaks/shoots. As much as his Agent Clayton wants to catch Samir, he also wants to understand what drives him.

Including a late second act twist that TOTALLY screws the pooch for Samir (to the point where a woman in my row got up and had to take a lap down the aisle, she was so struck by it) and theological highlights that underscore the peaceful nature of the undistorted Koran (”It seems every religion has more than one face,” muses Clayton), Nachmanoff’s “Traitor” is a heady mix of fear, friendship, and faith. It’s smart. Has a nice, steady but suspenseful build to it. Heck, it’s even franchise-ready, should it have a big opening weekend (it won’t - but I’m pulling for it!). Call it a thinking man’s actioner. Don Cheadle fans will be proud.

@@@ REELS

(THREE REELS)

It’s pretty hot - go give it a shot.

UTC’s resident film critic Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.


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