Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Writers: Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Steve Martin
Cast: Don Cheadle, Archie Panjabi, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough
Rating: PG-13 (intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language)
Running Time: 114 min
Release Date: 8/27/08
Traitor is a story set right in the middle of the War on (Islamic) Terror. We start with the arrest of Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) in Yemen. He gets the usual brutal treatment from the local authorities, fellow prisoners, and even one good punch from a visiting FBI agent. He is offered a chance to get out of prison in return for cooperation. It seems a good deal but Samir turns it down. You see that is something that the FBI agents and everyone else doesn’t know about him.
Samir is the son of Somali cleric who was killed when his car was bombed. Later his family immigrated to the U.S. and Samir joined the U.S. army. He later as a member of special forces became involved in covert operations in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet Army. After that he dropped out of sight. Since he was arrested trying to sell explosives to a terrorist group, the FBI assumed that he had gone rogue. The one thing that is clear is that he has become a very devout Muslim.
He is befriended by Omar (Said Taghmaoui), a terrorist leader, who is also imprisoned with some of his fellow Jihadists. The have mutual interest in chess and both speak English. So when the breakout occurs (and this part is very similar to actual events in Yemen) Omar takes Samir with him. Samir joins the terrorist group as their bomb making expert. He soon proves his reliability by plotting and carrying out a bombing attack on a U.S. consulate in France. To the terrorists he seems disappointed that only eight people were killed. However, he soon shows another face when he meets with this U.S. intelligence handler.
Samir has gone so far undercover that the FBI has no idea that he is working for us. His ultimate target is the Jahidist group’s big leader. The consulate bombing had been arranged so that no one was to be killed but some unscheduled maintenance led to the deaths. Samir is morally challenged these events. The film brings in focus just how far should we go to achieve our goals in the War on Terror. Certainly the morality that is applied to war seems murky at best. Assassinating Sadam Hussein is deemed to be wrong but you can invade a country killing thousands to bring him to trial. It seems what is done at point blank range with a gun has much stricter rules that what is done dropping bombs from an aircraft for example.
Samir goes forward with the terrorists plot involving a plan to bomb 50 buses simultaneously in the U.S. However, complications develop when the FBI turns out to have a mole working inside it and Samir makes a major mistake.
FBI agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) play a “good cop/bad cop” team engaged in a global search for Samir and thwart the plot. Roy Clayton, the son of a Baptist minister, who has majored in Arabic studies along with Samir brings a thoughtful look at the underlying complexities of the current conflict. After a summer of action movies, a serious and highly realistic film like Traitor is a refreshing change of pace. By the way, the writing credit is the Steve Martin of “wild and crazy” fame who has obviously a very serious side as well.