The eight-year tenure of George W. Bush has seen an interesting period in American film – some of this effect is a result of the 9/11 attacks but much relates to Dubya’s response to them – with an initial period of respectful silence followed by reenactment films (United 93, World Trade Center) and then finally by those exploring the effectiveness of the so-called ‘War on Terror’. The past 18 months alone have seen a run of films like Lions for Lambs, The Kingdom, In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Stop-Loss, Body of Lies and now Traitor, all of which attempt to take a serious look at aspects of the ongoing conflict. Even our ‘lighter’ fare is using the themes – films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight are demonstrably inspired by elements of this fight.
It seems likely that many film viewers, therefore, will be or already are becoming jaded with these oft-dealt-with themes. Certainly, the rapid decline in box office returns of the recently released Body of Lies suggests that film failed to find much of an audience, when on paper it should have been a winner. Traitor comes into a market full to the brim with ‘message movies’ all dealing with the same message, and although it does a passable job of making its point it is likely to follow the same trajectory as its recent peers.
When an illegal explosives sale between arms-dealer and demolitions expert Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) and Muslim terrorist Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) turns sour and both men are sent to a Yemeni prison, they forge an unlikely bond that will lead Samir to join Omar’s terrorist cell upon their escape. Meanwhile, an FBI anti-terrorism unit led by Agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) is hot on Horn’s trail, and while Omar’s links to the higher echelons of international terror will mean Horn has the potential to wreak great havoc, it seems only Clayton has the qualities to stop him.
That there is an abundance of commmentary (not so subtlely) hidden beneath the surface of the interactions of these men is not surprising given this new age of cinema, and although the film means well it never quite differentiates itself from so many of the films listed above (and others not). Agent Clayton delivers a few noteworthy comments that mark him as the voicepiece of the writers, although Horn often contributes to the audience’s sense of being lectured to with his dialogue peppered with important messages.
Pearce and Cheadle are perfect in their roles, allowing both lead characters to be sympathetic. The film moves like treacle early on, but in its latter stages manages to become a relatively effective espionage thriller – significantly, this is the period of the film least burdened by political statement and well-intentioned subtext.
For many, Traitor will be just the latest in an ever-growing list of films dealing with the same basic topic, and it will fail to stand out enough to seem fresh. Although it probably could do with a trim in its early sections, it remains relatively enjoyable – perhaps for those living in a cave for the past few years it could even have something to say.Rating: