Film Review: Traitor

(Momentum Pictures)
On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams


From a car bomb in Sudan, to a prison break in Yemen, from the bombing of the US consulate in Nice and a special forces raid in London, to the plot for suicide bombers to blow up 50 buses criss-crossing the USA during Thanksgiving, Traitor is an explosive, frenetically paced action thriller played out through 17 cities across three continents, as Guy Pearce’s character FBI Agent Clayton pursues Don Cheadle’s Samir Horn an ex-US Special Forces, Sudanese-American, devout Muslim, who is implicated as a member of the Islamic terrorist organisation behind the attacks.

The filming of Traitor was equally fast paced, extraordinarily only taking 48 days, although Traitor had been five years in development. Perhaps another surprise, given that he is best known in this country as a comic actor in films such as The Pink Panther, is that it was originally conceived by Steve Martin, who appointed Jeffrey Nachmanoff, previously best known for the screenplay of The Day Before Tomorrow, to write and direct the film.

Traitor is imbued with a grittiness reminiscent of 1970s thrillers like The French Connection, and the immediacy and speed of the filming and story is maintained by the vérité-style camerawork that shudders with each explosion, and the blizzard of short scenes that seemingly splinter any which way from every detonation, through multiple characters and locations. So relentlessly is one carried along, that one begins to wonder whether one will ever be able to compute who exactly is who and what exactly is going on. But just when one reaches crisis point, namely about an hour into the film, Traitor reaches its tilt point and the jagged fragments begin to make sense, although as the subheading on the poster declares: The Truth is Complicated, and Traitor is as much a Gordian Knot as the issues it reflects.

Traitor seeks to meld the dynamism of an action movie with a far more thought provoking cerebral thriller. In the staccato onslaught of scenes multiple points of view are presented on both sides, there is no safe ground of absolute right or wrong as shifting perspectives of treachery to one’s country, one’s beliefs, oneself are all presented, and philosophical epigrams are exchanged as rapidly as violence. In this the film has parallels to Proof of Life, just as Pearce’s performance has echoes of Russell’s Crowe’s, which sought to mix action with a more philosophical insight into kidnapping and the workings of guerrilla groups in Colombia. Proof of Life was written by Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the screenplays for the trilogy of Bourne films which are another clear influence.

Traitor is a brave attempt to create a heightened genre, which ultimately does not quite make its intended coup de grâce. Nachmanoff’s desire explore, to experiment, to present nuance and difference on all sides rather than just a blanket ‘other’ are all highly laudable, but in many ways the combination of styles does not quite work. The relentless pace which is thoroughly exciting, leaves no time to explore the multitude of thoughts and questions raised, and the intention that this should lead the viewer to engender discussion post film is rather let down by the lacklustre, and return to a more traditional Hollywood type closing scene, which leaves one, for all one’s breathlessness, unsated, and engenders more discussion about whether the film works technically than the issue it raises. That said, it is a very watchable film and Cheadle and Pearce are exemplary, ably demonstrating and compounding the superbly accomplished breadth of range of both actor, that has taken Cheadle from Oceans 11/12/13 to Hotel Rwanda, and Pearce from Priscilla Queen of the Desert to LA Confidential.

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