Don Cheadle Anchors This Smart Action Thriller
In Traitor, Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn, a Sudan-born Muslim-American recruited by an unnamed terrorist organization determined to commit numerous attacks on U.S. soil. There are few actors who could've pulled off making you care about a terrorist, and Cheadle is one of them. His eyes and the profound humanity always lurking behind them give you the faith that, sure, he just bombed an American embassy, but maybe, just maybe, there's more to it. As his character says in the movie, "The truth is complicated."
Horn is an arms dealer when Traitor begins, about to sell a van-load of detonators to an old Afghan friend who is now a terrorist working out of Yemen. He gets caught in the middle of a raid spearheaded by FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) but refuses to cooperate when captured. Clayton knows Horn is just an opportunist, and so leaves him to rot in a Yemeni prison alongside senior terrorist Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui). Omar initially believes Horn is a traitor and responsible for the raid, but, once he witnesses Horn's deep devotion to the Quran, even willingness to take a gang beating to defend his beliefs, he offers his friendship and, when an escape is engineered, invites Horn to help his organization plan a suicide bombing in Nice, France. Horn, ex-U.S. Special Forces, is an explosives expert, but is firmly opposed to taking innocent life, as it is forbidden in the Quran. Omar's teachings eventually erode this conviction, though, and Horn helps engineer a bombing that kills eight people. The suicide element of the attack is dispensed at the 11th hour because of an intelligence leak, and so Horn personally plants remotely detonated explosives.
Finally, Horn is invited into the terrorist organization's inner sanctum. All of his hard work has paid off, since, halfway through the movie, what you inevitably suspect is revealed--Horn is an undercover CIA operative, trading his soul to save lives by discovering the location of the mysterious Nathir (Raad Rawi), who is sort of the suited version of Osama bin Laden. Horn finally meets Nathir in Montreal, where Horn and Omar are directed to carry out the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11. Sleeper terrorists have been planted all over the States for years now, waiting for the call; now, they will be asked to carry bombs onto 50 buses and simultaneously detonate them on Thanksgiving. This presents a dilemma for Horn, who doesn't want any more innocent blood on his hands but must cooperate if there's ever to be a chance of stopping these mass killers once and for all. That's when things get even more complicated, as his CIA contact, the only man who knows he exists, is killed. Horn is now all alone, with only one man to trust--the very same man pursuing him across the globe, FBI agent Clayton.
This all sounds familiar because the story has been used over and over in Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock built a career out of wrong-man scenarios, though he probably would've shied away from the socio-religious debates seen here. Traitor is about a war of ideologies, perhaps too complicated to understand, but surely capable of destroying even the most inherently good men and women.
Writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff previously wrote The Day After Tomorrow, a bloated, silly movie that twisted science facts into nonsensical fiction while beating you over the head about global warming. Traitor only lightly taps you with its message that the war on terror is a slippery slope that costs the enforcers of it more than their lives, and that, most obviously, not all Muslims are terrorists. But Traitor ultimately has many reasons to recommend it, none more so than a twist ending that might be one of the most unexpected and fun since The Sixth Sense.