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Terror Suspect, F.B.I. Caught Up in Infernal Affairs

MOVIE REVIEW
Traitor (2008)

M10900190
Rafy/Overture Films

Two very different movies compete for the soul of “Traitor,” the new film from writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff based on a story idea of Steve Martin’s. The first and least interesting of the two follows the general, turgid outline of a thriller. It comes complete with slow intercutting between a terrorist and his pursuers, repetitious pans over the skylines of Washington D.C. and too many international locales and “action” scenes that largely consist of star Don Cheadle walking into and out of various buildings.

Much more compelling: the ways in which the film critiques popular representations of Islam. It does so by making Samir Horn (Mr. Cheadle), the main character, an American Gulf War veteran and convert to Islam who for unknown reasons has involved himself in a Middle Eastern terrorist ring. The picture refuses to vilify Samir, and as he gets more deeply immersed in the terrorist underworld, the screenplay raises serious questions about the defining struggle within Islam: that between its violent extremists and majority of peace-loving practitioners.

Scrap the clichéd thriller aesthetic, with its drumbeat soundtrack and slick visuals, and there’s a provocative story here. Mr. Cheadle, an enormously skilled actor, is certainly up for the greater challenge. He invests in Samir his characteristic combination of emotional and psychological intelligence, and he makes the character surprisingly relatable in spite of Samir’s cerebral, challenging nature.

The screenplay contains some meaningful debate about the proper interpretation of the Quran, the religious validity of the concept of jihad and the importance of maintaining an optimistic worldview even in the bleakest of times. An important cry for peace, and one that directly confronts the rampant media stereotyping of practitioners of Islam, the film still never delves fully into these more interesting themes and ideas. Instead, in aspiring to late summer blockbuster status, the filmmakers ensure that these substantive parts are drowned out by a lot of generic fluff.

TRAITOR

Opened on Aug. 27 in the United States.

Directed and written by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, based on a story by Steve Martin and Mr. Nachmanoff; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Billy Fox; music by Mark Kilian; production designer, Rocco Matteo; produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Silver; released by Overture Films. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Mr. Cheadle (Samir Horn), Guy Pearce (Roy Clayton), Saïd Taghmaoui (Omar), Neal McDonough (Max Archer) and Jeff Daniels (Carter).

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