5-Word 365 #010 – Traitor

I’m still not convinced that this “new review every day for a year” nonsense was a good idea. But, ever onwards…


The Donnie Brasco of terrorists.

I saw a trailer for this film on iTunes a couple of years ago and it’s been on my to-do list ever since.  I’m glad I finally got to it.

Written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff from a story he co-wrote with Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin), Traitor is the story of Samir Horn, a Sudanese American former Special Forces explosives expert who became radicalised and joined the Mujaheddin, and Roy Clayton, the FBI agent chasing Samir and his group all over the world as he builds towards a potentially devastating attack in the American heartland.

The flick spends almost equal screentime with both protagonists, but it is Don Cheadle as Samir who takes on most of the dramatic heavy-lifting, and he does his typical excellent job. Refreshingly, Clayton (played by Guy Pierce with a solid Deep South accent) is not portrayed as a rabid dog, but as a man who has actually rooted himself in Arabic culture after discovering the language in college. Neal McDonough plays Neal McDonough. If you’ve seen him in anything since the short-lived TV series Boomtown, you’ll know what I mean. He brings his standard dry wit and a little snark as Clayton’s FBI sidekick.

Possible spoilers from here on out. If you want to watch the movie as fresh as you can, go read about Brazilian porno instead.

For the first hour or so of the runtime it is hinted that Samir might be an infiltrator still working for Uncle Sam, but you’re not entirely sure until he meets with Jeff Daniels’ spook Carter after blowing up the American Embassy in Nice. It turns out that Carter had arranged for a couple of procured corpses to be discovered in the wreckage but there was also some unscheduled maintenance going on and six people died for real in the blast. Samir is understandably devastated but Carter talks him into continuing with the mission: fifty simultaneous suicide bombs on buses all over the US (the way this plays out, you will not see coming). Unfortunately for Samir, nobody but Carter knows the real story. Carter has been keeping it off the books to protect Samir but of course that backfires and he’s left out in the cold. It’s left up to Clayton to figure everything out if Samir is to have any chance of getting out alive.

Saïd Taghmaoui is excellent as Lefty Ruggiero Omar, the man who initially distrusts Samir, then befriends him and brings him in to the cell. By the end of the film these two men love each other as brothers, and the betrayal on Omar’s face at the climax is almost heartbreaking, despite who and what the character is.

This film contains probably the least demonising portrayal of Islamist extremists I’ve seen in Western cinema (since Rambo 3 at least – but of course they were on our side then against those pesky Russkies) which should certainly provoke some debate. From a dramatic point of view, this attitude makes it easier to tell better, more evocative stories. It is also a welcome change that the hero of the piece is himself a Muslim. Everything else he did may have been a lie, but his faith was always true.

The film looks gorgeous. The locations, from Morocco (standing in for the Yemen) to Marseille and Nice, to London, to Washington and beyond are all shot beautifully by J. Michael Muro who also shot Crash for Paul Haggis.

Definitely worth a watch.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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