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Traitor (2008)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/19/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/23/2008

Historically, movies have dealt with sensitive subjects after the fact. The 1950s saw a slew of movies about World War II. In the 1980s, films tackling the Vietnam War were in vogue. It appeared that both filmmakers and audiences needed a time of reflection and healing before certain topics could make it to the screen. Such niceties no longer exist, and filmmakers are more than willing to make movies which have very modern, and often politically raw stories. Traitor is a film which is not only fearless about approaching the subjects of racial profiling and terrorism, but it handles it from a point-of-view which is quite unusual for an American film.

Don Cheadle stars in Traitor as Samir Horn. Samir was raised in Sudan, but moved to the U.S. to live with his mother when his father was murdered, and thus has U.S. citizenship. As the film opens, Samir is arrested in a sting operation in Yemen, where he was attempting to sell detonators to Omar (Said Taghmaoui). FBI agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) are on the scene and offer to take Samir back to America, but he declines. Now imprisoned in Yemen, Samir isn't trusted by the locals, but soon he and Omar become friends and find that they have the same political views. After a daring prison escape, Samir accepts Omar's offer to join his organization. Soon, Samir finds himself involved in a plot to create explosions in several locations worldwide. Meanwhile, Clayton continues to learn more about Samir. Why would this former United States soldier be involved with terrorists in the Middle East? Is it because he's Muslim, or is something else happening here? As Clayton gets closer to the truth, and Samir begins his journey, many lives hang in the balance.

On the surface, Traitor looks like another international espionage movie, along the lines of say a film based on a Tom Clancy novel. It certainly has all of the requisite parts. It's got many international locations. It has foreign militant terrorists. We get American investigators who are attempting to stop a terrorist attack. There are explosions and shoot-outs as well. Yep, it looks like everything is here.

However, Traitor approaches the genre from a different angle. Most of these films focus on the people who are trying to stop the terrorists. Traitor takes us inside the terrorist cell, so that we can see the planning and debates which occur there. The movie also takes a very serious look at not only the political ideology of these characters, but their religious views as well. Typically, the "villains" in these films are simply labeled as "radicals", but Traitor isn't afraid to probe Islam and hear what their beliefs are. Being Muslim, Samir is accepted by Omar and his team, and we can see how he is torn between his religious beliefs and the fact that his Mother still lives in America. In this sense, Traitor falls closer to the classic Black Sunday than more modern thrillers.

However, it's this intensely serious approach which also hurts Traitor. The film was co-written by Steve Martin...yes, that Steve Martin, so it's not surprising that the movie would have a more academic and emotional tone. But, Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (directing only his second feature film and his first serious one) lets the pacing get slack far too often. Traitor follows the basic three-act structure, but the audience is forced to wait too long for the motivating factors for each act to arrive. For example, we assume that Samir will get out of the prison at some point, but this is a long time coming. Yes, it's important that he bond with Omar while he's there, but I didn't come here for a prison movie, and FYI, chess isn't a spectator sport. Going in, I honestly knew next to nothing about Traitor, but as the as story progressed, I sensed that certain plot twists were coming. Yet, there's a difference between suspense and waiting for the film to catch up with your expectations.

Given this, the highlight of the film is the acting. Again, Samir is a unique character and Don Cheadle is perfect in the role. He is able to embody the serious, yet soulful nature which this character needs. And, as he's in nearly every scene, he's asked to carry the film and does so admirably. Guy Pearce (who doesn't appear in enough mainstream movies) is good as the man on the other side of the law from Samir. Agent Clayton is revealed to be a multi-dimensional character and Pearce balances this with some much needed levity.

As it stands, Traitor is an interesting experiment. Here is a film which tackles today's issues head-on, as it looks at Muslim extremist and American paranoia about terrorism in a post-9/11 world. The movie also takes a serious look at what motivates terrorist. But, the film also languishes at times, and the balance between debate and action swings too much to the former. If things had been tightened up a bit, Traitor would be a must-see.

Traitor spans the globe on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, although there is noticeable grain in some shots. There are no overt defects from the source material. The picture is very crisp and nicely detailed. Much of the film takes place in bright daylight, but these scenes are never overly bright. In fact, these exteriors boast nice depth, which provides good separation between the foreground and background. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get good stereo effects here, which are nicely detailed and show good stereo separation. For a snapshot of the audio, simply go to the prison break scene. The explosions display great subwoofer effects, while the constant gunfire in the background show off what the surround channels can do. This is one of the better TrueHD tracks that I've heard.

The Traitor Blu-ray Disc carries a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Actor Don Cheadle. "Action!" (5 minutes) examines the stunts and fight training which the actors went through, as well as the explosions. "International Espionage" (5 minutes) looks at the worldwide scope of the film and how the crew shot in so many international locations. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long