Save Us From 'Traitor'

Friday, August 29, 2008

Once again there are terrorists in our midst, and once again they are Muslims, hiding in sleeper cells, waiting to cause mayhem. Heroic action is needed.

To save us from the terrorists?

More pressing, to save us from such films as "Traitor," a longwinded thriller starring Don Cheadle as a conflicted Muslim who is either an undercover U.S. operative, a ruthless killer or both. This film traffics in the cliches of the terrorist chase film while trying not to succumb to outright bigotry.

Cheadle, who is one of the film's producers as well as its star, is deployed like an ethical talisman to show viewers that this movie is not like those other terrorist flicks.

To some degree it's not, but these are rarely the moments when you think "Traitor" is at its best.

Cheadle stars as former U.S. Special Operations officer Samir Horn, who has infiltrated the world of Islamic terror so well that the FBI is unaware that he is (probably) working for the United States. Lead agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) chase Horn around the world, engaging in contrived discussions about terrorism and Islam.

Cheadle, as Samir, shows himself conflicted about the lengths he must go to prove loyalty to his handlers. He hates shedding innocent blood, a scruple hard to maintain while outfitting a young man with an explosive-filled suicide vest.

Is there an A for effort in terrorism films? Hardly. Terrorism is a dubious subject for entertainment. The excesses of fear it inspires are corrosive to society. The prejudices that underlie those fears are not neutralized by hiring Don Cheadle.

-- Philip Kennicott

Traitor PG-13, 114 minutes Contains intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language. Area theaters.

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