dir-scr Jeffrey Nachmanoff
with Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Saïd Taghmaoui, Neal McDonough, Jeff Daniels, Alyy Khan, Archie Panjabi, Raad Rawi, Hassam Ghancy, Mozhan Marno, Adeel Akhtar, Lorena Gale
release US 27.Aug.08, UK 27.Mar.09
08/US 1h54

Heroes or villains? Cheadle and Pearce

taghmaoui mcdonough daniels
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Traitor Taking a remarkably fresh approach to the whole issue of terrorism, this twisty thriller is packed with superb characters and high-suspense sequences. The plot wobbles a bit, but the film always keeps us thinking.

Samir (Cheadle) is a Sudanese-born American citizen who sells explosives to whoever wants them, which includes a terrorist cell in Yemen. So when it's raided, he's detained with everyone else. In prison he befriends radical Muslim Omar (Tagmaoui) and catches the eye of two FBI terrorism agents (Pearce and McDonough). But they lose him when Samir and Omar break out of jail and enter an underground network that needs Samir's expertise's as it plans a massive strike on America. But can he, as a devout, peace-loving Muslim, accept their violent plan?

The cleverest thing Nachmanoff (The Day After Tomorrow) does is to crush our preconceptions of who's side we should be on. He continually shifts the elements that would normally be stereotypical in a Hollywood movie. There are good Muslims and bad Muslims, but most of them aren't so easy to categorise, mainly because we can see things from their perspective. Even as we get more information, our opinions and preconceptions are constantly being challenged. And it's not only the Muslim characters who are this intriguing (spot the throwaway reference to the KKK).

Of course, this kind of material gives the actors plenty to work with, and all of the performances are extremely strong. Cheadle holds the film together with a slippery, shaded portrayal of a man trying to do the right thing even if that means doing something wrong to get there. Pearce is also notable as a guy who constantly reveals new depth to his character. And there's terrific support from the always excellent Taghmaoui, McDonough and Daniels.

This is a film about discovering something worth dying for--and even more challenging, worth killing for. Watching these men of peace pushed into violence is fascinating because it really does make us think. And even if he spends a bit more time provoking us than he does resolving the story (one late plot turn is beyond credibility), Nachmanoff shows a sure hand when it comes to directing both dramatic scenes and thrillingly tense action.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 23.Mar.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall