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The modern world is pulling at its own stitches -- religious differences, political conflicts, and crisscrossing loyalties. So it's an appropriate time for a movie like "Traitor," a brilliantly acted and morally murky tale that was written (weirdly enough) by Steve Martin, but which is also held back by its twisty narrative and a narrative that sounds better in theory than in practice.
Sudanese Samir Horn (Cheadle) was born in Sudan, but after his father was killed in a terrorist attack he was brought to the United States and eventually became a part of the army -- a specialist who infiltrates terrorist organizations. But it seems his loyalties are no longer to the US army -- he's become entangled in a group of terrorists and imprisoned in Yemen. And, of course, his special skills and knowledge come in quite handy when it comes to terrorist plots.
But something is not quite right in this equation. A pair of FBI agents, Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough), are sent after Samir.... but soon discover that his loyalties are not so easily identified. Just who is he a traitor to? At the same time, a plot is being put into effect that would kill countless people on Thanksgiving Day, and Samir seems to be involved...
"Traitor" is pretty clearly a movie meant to make you very, very uncomfortable, especially since it does some heavy delving into Muslim beliefs, divisions of loyalty, and the corruptions of text and belief that drive fanatical extremists to kill others. It gets too slanted at times -- the Muslim agent is portrayed as far more devout in his faith than the Christian one -- but it's a powerful piece of work, and a sympathetic look at the people torn between their personal beliefs and outside forces.Read more ›
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This movie is the brainchild of Steve Martin, who switches comedy for more serious fare as executive producer of this gripping spy thriller that goes behind the scenes of a terrorist organization known as the Islamic Brotherhood.
As intense as he was in Hotel Rwanda, Don Cheadle gives a first-rate performance as Samir Horn, an explosives expert trained by the US Army Special Forces, who becomes deeply involved with the group. Cheadle plays a devout Muslim and his character battles personal conflicts and principles all the way through the movie.
Short Attention Span Summary (SASS)
1. It all begins with a car bomb 2. Flash forward to an arms deal gone wrong and a one-way ticket to a prison in Yemen. 3. Horn falls in with the people who know how to get out of jail free 4. His new friends are trying to get the monopoly on terror 5. He joins them and starts having a blast, but with serious misgivings, and for good reason. 6. Guy Pearce plays the FBI Special Agent who gets wind of Horn's activities 7. Explosive ending
Samir Horn: You know that the Qu'ran says that if you kill an innocent person it's as if you've killed all mankind?
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Where Do His Loyalties Lie?Aug. 28 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
The movie is called "Traitor," and the implication is that the main character, played by Don Cheadle, has betrayed his own country. But it's nowhere near that simple. Some think he's a traitor to the United States while others think he's a traitor to Islam. He may be a traitor to his own beliefs, his loyalties divided between his Muslim faith and his American upbringing. By the end of the film, no one is any closer to understanding what he believes, himself least of all. He's a double agent frequently confronted by conflicting ideologies, and it's slowly but surely tearing him apart. One way this movie succeeds is that we're able to feel for this character no matter what side he's on; we can sense the anguish he feels, the torment of being a misfit in every culture he immerses himself in. We see in his face the unease and guilt he's forced to live with everyday.
Cheadle plays Samir Horn, who was born in Sudan but raised in the United States. Thirty years ago, his father was killed in a terrorist attack, although it's unclear which side was responsible; it may have been an anti-Muslim faction, but it may also have been devout Muslims who opposed his beliefs. Whatever the case, Horn is now a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant for the United States Army, someone trained to infiltrate terrorist organizations and gather information. It seems his loyalties have shifted; while in Yemen, he's caught selling detonators to a group of jihadists, and after a brief shootout, everyone is arrested. In prison, he befriends Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), who is apparently in league with people on the outside, people willing to risk incarceration or death to free their brother Muslims. A frenetic jailbreak ensues. Not long after, Horn becomes entangled in a terrorist conspiracy, one that would result in several major attacks on American soil.
Two FBI agents have been assigned to locate and arrest Horn. One is Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce), who, interestingly enough, once considered World Religions as a college major. He claims to take his own Christian faith seriously, but unlike Horn with the Koran, we never see him reading from the Bible or quoting any of its passages. We're never told what Max Archer (Neal McDonough) believes, although it's obvious that, as far as his job is concerned, he's all about getting results as quickly as possible; in an early scene, he gets impatient with Horn and subsequently punches him in the stomach. Clayton is much more calm and collected, and he understands that you get information from a suspect by pushing his buttons, not by letting him push yours. Indeed, Horn is a tough nut to crack, probably because he knows how to keep secrets from both sides.
To describe the plot any further would not only give too much away, it would also require a lot of explaining, more so than anyone would be willing to read. As Horn says, "The truth is complicated." It would be more accurate to say that the truth is elusive, simply because I'm not convinced he knows what the truth is. He probably no longer knows which side represents good and which side represents evil. His beliefs are divided between what he reads in the Koran and what he sees going on; one passage states that killing one man is like killing all mankind, yet he's surrounded by Islamic extremists who commit murder to get their point across. He's serious about his faith, but it's clear he doesn't always understand it. He certainly doesn't understand how certain ideas can be misconstrued out of all reason, such as Takfiri, or blending in. A Pakistani terrorist named Fareed (Aly Khan) baffles Horn by saying that jihadists living in America drink alcohol and eat pork in order to blend in. Both acts go against Islamic beliefs.
Horn would probably argue that murder, no matter how justified, also goes against Islamic beliefs (I would make the same argument, although I'm well aware that many people would not). If there were no jihadists, if terrorism were to be eradicated entirely, Horn would not need to be a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant. He would not have to infiltrate enemy hideouts and pretend to be on their side. Only then would his mind be at ease; he could worship in peace without having to worry about suspicious activity in American and Muslim communities. Is it unreasonable to suggest that the vast majority of Muslims long for the same peace of mind? I don't think so. Neither is the idea that there's a gigantic difference between jihad terrorists and those of Islamic faith.
That may ultimately be the point "Traitor" is trying to make, although it's difficult to tell with a story actively trying to be ambiguous. Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and producer/co-story creator Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) have crafted a political drama that forces the audience to think really hard, more about the main character's beliefs than about the actual plot. Themes of not belonging and divided loyalties are certainly not new, but that doesn't mean they're no longer used effectively; "Traitor" succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is Don Cheadle's believable performance. He above all else is what gets the story off the ground, allowing it to be much more than a run-of-the-mill thriller. He adds genuine emotional touches in the subtlest of ways, from precise eye movements to random breathing patterns. Essentially, he makes it real, especially since he never reveals which side his character feels most connected with.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Suspense Drama With A Message...Dec 28 2008
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Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This film is a suspenseful drama that looks into the world of espionage and the so-called war on terror with the view as advertised on the DVD jacket "the truth is complicated." Cheadle plays a Sudanese born US Army vet trained in explosives who is seemingly working with Islamic terrorists... though who he is actually working with is not as it seems - even to himself. There's a message in this film that the ends don't justify the means, and the characters are led to question whether it's right or just to kill for a cause just because you believe you are the good guys. Cheadle does an excellent job playing this troubled character, while Guy Pearce is the FBI agent who is pursuing him. One interesting thing depicted in the film is how intelligence operations are complex and that terror groups are often being steered by government agents/informants, who in some cases lead what can be considered false flag terror - and the public reports about the events are based on disinfo created by government intelligence operatives. This film encourages us to look deeper at what's going on and question anyone who believes they are killing or sacrificing lives for a god-sanctioned agenda. The only weakness I found in the film was that there are a few loose ends in the film that don't get explained... but that's like real life where we can't find out everything.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
"What Language Do You Dream In?" ~ Faith, Sacrifice And The Greater JihadiFeb. 11 2009
Brian E. Erland
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Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The tagline for the '08 film `Traitor' is "The truth is complicated". After viewing the movie I can only compliment the filmmakers for picking such a wise and appropriate phrase to encapsulate what unfolds before its audience. The occidental mind has yet to come to grips with an Islamic mindset that encourages its most fanatical followers to strap explosives to their bodies and detonate themselves in crowded buildings, transportation centers or any high traffic venue that will best unsettle the security of its adversaries. It is "terrorism as theatre" and all the world is its stage.
In `Traitor' Don Cheadle delivers a marvelous performance as Samir a Islamic, Sudanese born American immigrant who after spending years in U.S. military intelligence apparently has a change of conscience and joins an extreme terrorist organization after being recruited by Jihadist and future best friend Omar (Said Taghmaoui). Said is also magnificent, the on-going conversations between Omar and Samir discussing the Jihadist mindset and mission and how they compare with past and present acts of aggression by America are searing, thought-provoking and nuanced. For me they make this movie worth the time and effort. That's not to say that there isn't anything else worthwhile in this film, but it is there relationship and intellectual debate that raises the film to a higher level.
As for the rest of the film, well this isn't one of your typical fast paced action films. The storyline unfolds rather slowly, too slowly at times. But it does build momentum about halfway through will firmly hold your interest to the end. `Traitor' offers the viewer great performances, intellectual stimulation and political relevance. There is in my opinion two flaws that keep the film from receiving a -5 Star- rating. The `Big Moment' at the end is rather unrealistic for reasons I can't discuss without spoiling the surprise and secondly, the ultimate decision made by Samir was a little too black and white for a storyline focused on exploring the gray areas of faith, conscience and choosing sides.
Footnote: Guy Pearce also delivers a stellar performance as the FBI agent pursuing Samir.
28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Don Cheadle ThrillerAug. 29 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Traitor is a fantastic thriller starring Don Cheadle as Samir Horn, a Muslim who was born in Sudan and moved to America as a teenager. He grows up to be a Special Forces soldier for the US, and as the movie begins, we see him moving through the Middle East selling explosives.
His fate crosses with two FBI agents, played by Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough. Soon the two are crisscrossing the globe hunting Samir, who is becoming more and more involved with a cell led by a terrorist mastermind.
The film is written and directed as a great thriller with enough action and suspense to keep you ocuupied and guessing, but not to the extent that it comes off like a routine action movie trying to be more than it is. The film has several twists and surprises and keeps the viewer engaged throughout.
But everything is held together is by Cheadle, who burnishes his reputation as one of Hollywood's greatest talents. His Samir is at once devious, treacherous, loving, compassionate, stubborn, and dangerous. Traitor is a great film, but it would not possess the same impact with a lesser talent as its star.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Good effort, not quite 'brilliant'Feb. 11 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
"Traitor" tries to plow through the viewers' assumed ignorance or lack of understanding when it comes to Islamic terrorists and suggest a more nuanced explanations of motives beyond the simplistic "they want to kill us all" or "unless we don't fight them there will have to fight them here" or "they are going to follow us home and do unspeakable things to our defenseless families". Clearly, we have a much better understanding of terrorists movements such as the nationalist IRA or the various past and present Marxist or Maoist Red Army Brigades than we do of today's super-radical and super-desperate Islamic suiciders. It's difficult to 'get' what motivates young men and women, often well educated and sometimes coming from affluent families to blow themselves up for the dubious (at least to us) reward of taking 'some of us' with them in the process and the few no longer front page newspaper headlines and Tweets. What makes "Traitor" troubling is not its largely successful attempt to show us that there's a lot more than the promise of 72 virgins in Heaven that recruits 'suiciders' but its inability to go beyond hinting at what that might be - to borrow a famous line from 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off'... Anyone? Anyone? The possible explanations provided by dedicated terrorist Omar - who attended finishing school in Switzerland - that tend to come down to 'they killed many of us so we should kill many of them' may be part of the motive, especially when a family member was tortured or imprisoned or lost but individual revenge can't account for a movement and a cause.
With the understanding that "Traitor" is maybe a baby step forward toward an open discussion of what makes 'them' hate 'us' so much and how can 'we' justify us voluntarily surrender so quickly our personal and civil liberties when facing a relatively small threat and in exchange for some largely illusory 'security', it is a tense, generally well acted movie. It's not clear what made Samir, a native of Sudan, join the US Army Special Forces - we see his father dying inside an exploding car but from that to an elite US Army career and then deep cover agent - before or maybe after having fought side by side with the Afghan freedom fighters (now known to us as terrorists) against Russian invaders? Omar, Samir's Islamic Brotherhood terrorist best friend meets him in a Yemeni prison and it's not clear how he ended up there either after completing finishing school in Switzerland. We do hear from Omar that he resents 'the West' for killing and humiliating his brothers and sisters but... from Switzerland to Yemen? Yemen is one of the least likely place to find Westerner targets. The US government agents, especially the FBI, get a more realistic treatment - arrogant, brutal, unable and unwilling to comprehend or adjust to an unfamiliar reality, all too willing to forget about the niceties of actually following our laws when the opportunity to brutalize a US citizen abroad presents itself, sloganeering when there's a need to defend or explain less then honorable activities.
As far as the plot goes, it's the expected spy thriller action movie. People are not always who they say they are, there's a lot of deception, a reasonable body count and, in the end, even though 'our side' seems to get the better of it, poor Samir is left trying to figure out for himself if whatever he did was right or even necessary while under intense bombardment from slogans and clichés thrown at him by Special Agent Roy Clayton.
"Traitor" is not easy to watch. Even hinting at what might be "the other side's" views and motivations tends to make us uncomfortable and, while not really coming close to touching the root causes and motivations for today's Islamic terrorism, it comes close enough to make watching difficult. Sadly, because it only hints at possible causes and motives without fully exposing them, most viewers discussions about what they just watched aren't likely to deviate from the standard, often repeated, short, simplistic, depressing sound bites fed to us by big and loud talking heads that our valuable mass media likes to squeeze between male enhancer pills and diet plan or abs commercials.
Since I watched "Traitor" on a Blu-ray disc, it's probably worth noting that there's little in the image where the Blu would offer a significant advantage over a DVD. The dark subject is appropriately painted on the screen with dark shades of brown, gray and yellow and the viewer attention is likely to focus more on the plot and characters interactions than on the largely non-existent vistas. The same can be said about sound - Dolby TrueHD - it's adequate but this story does not call for tremendous surround sound performances. Explosions, even when they happen, are integrated into the context of the story. The Blu-ray package comes with a second digital copy disk which is quite appropriate because watching the movie on a computer screen should be as good an experience as watching it on a home theater.
I hesitate to recommend "Traitor" as an outright purchase even though the current Blu low price (8.99) should make it tempting. I did buy my copy and I am probably going to keep it. However, if in doubt, you're probably better off renting it and HD vs. DVD resolution won't make a big difference.