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Traitor: Walking the thin, tense line.

Posted by goldwriting on August 9, 2008

“Apologize for making fun of my wind-up puppy collection.”

“Not until you apologize for making fun of my pitch for ‘Dumb and Dumber 3: The Dumbest’.”


In a cinematic climate recently proven to be tired of movies dealing with the current war in the Middle East, a new fighter enters the fray. Traitor attempts to be something different, a story dealing with the conflict in that part of the world, but also dealing with its effects on people of the Muslim faith in the Westernized world as well. On top of that daunting task, it also reaches for the goal of creating tension, action, anxiety and even a little humor in a deeply political thriller. Oh, and did I mention it was from a first-time feature director? Yep, that’s one big slice of pie to cut off. So how did it fare? Let’s start from the surface and work our way in.

If you’re any fan or connoisseur of cinema, you absolutely have to take your hat off to Don Cheadle. The man has a resume going back years and years and nary a miss in the bunch. There are a few stumbles (I’m looking at you, Swordfish), but overall once Don Cheadle is added to the cast, you’re film instantly takes a step up in the quality column. Going all the way back to Colors and his long stint on the highly acclaimed TV show Picket Fences, Don has only continued his trail of solid performances with the Oceans trilogy, Crash and Hotel Rwanda. In Traitor, Don plays a Muslim American who is caught not between his faith and the Western world, but between his faith and others who interpret the same faith differently. This is the real core to much of the fighting in the world today and this film seeks to uncover some of that for audiences which are nearly foreign to the concept of non-Judeo-Christian values being misinterpreted. Don continually resolves himself on screen with what he wants and what he has to do, all while holding the quiet and stoic presence he has come to be known for. It’s no surprise that his performance is filled with intensity and passion, since he is also a producer on the project and helped get it made under the banner of Overture Films. Once again this is a great example of desire and talent coming together with a well written story.

On the directing side, Jeffery Nachmanoff, who is also the writer, pulls visual influences from other character driven crime stories like Traffic and The French Connection. Traitor has a dirty, worn aesthetic which lends a helping hand to the gritty nature of the subject and landscape of the film. Jeffery weaves two stories together, that of our main characters challenges over his faith and the story of the other side, those people with no struggles over faith and how that can be abused by those in positions of religious power. It boils down to a moral tale about making your own choices and following your heart over the decisions and desires of others. It is a successful effort from this first time feature director, but it did have a handful of missteps. First and foremost, there exists a line where creating tension in the audience changes from excitement to uncomfortability and anxiety. We love being scared, we love being tense, hell, that’s how the enitre horror movie genre lives and breathes, but you can’t keep the audience in that physical and emotional state for too long at one time. Breaks, laugh lines, moments to breathe have to be interspersed to give people time to recoup and let the tension out of their muscles. Traitor sways over that line numerous times in the movie, especially during intercut scenes with a number of storylines happening simultaneously. Lastly, (*minor spoiler*) there is a moment where we are shown a number of ordinary Americans doing their daily routines, while in the background plays a news report about racial profiling and the rampant dissolution of civil rights of stereotypical Muslim looking citizens directly after the 9/11 attacks. The music, the visuals and the content was directed to make the audience feel and agree with the impropriety of the racial profiling, yet later on in the film we are shown that every person we saw during that montage was actually a terrorist as well. It went from telling us how we should trust our fellow man to needing to be prepared to fight off our local coffee store employee. (*minor spoiler over*)

Worth mentioning alongside Don Cheadle are the performances of Guy Pearce, who certainly doesn’t get enough screen time in the major studio films, and Said Taghmaoui, who plays Omar, the devout extremist who brings Don Cheadle into the terrorist fold. Both of these actors really helped shape the story and world on each side of Don and allow him to bring his full range to the movie as a whole, instead of just one storyline. Now, worth mentioning on the bad side of the scale, is the intentionally misleading trailer. The trailer makes this movie look like it’s the black version of The Bourne Identity, with car chases, fist fights and intense spy scenarios, but very little of that is actually present. It was only cut that way to entice American audiences who might otherwise not pay money to sit and watch a slow paced, heavily political tension piece, but that is what Traitor really is. Walking out, I was really happy I had seen it, but I definitely resented the trickery from the studio to try and get me hyped for something it didn’t deliver.

Recommendation: If you don’t mind the tension levels, check this out for sure. Oh, and to really freak out your friends with the wealth of your movie knowledge, add this movie whenever you’re talking about films from the mind of comedian Steve Martin. Yeah, they’ll look at you weird, but you’ll know you’re right. Enjoy the glow.

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