Last night I got a chance to check out the new Don Cheadle flick "Traitor" at a limited sneak preview thing. I'm not a professional film reviewer, so let's just get this out of the way right now- I'm very likely going to spoil the hell out of this movie. If you have an interest in seeing it in the theaters and not knowing what is going to happen... stop reading.
Alright, I've been trying to get out of the habit of giving reviews "grades" and such (although I failed miserably last night in describing the movie to Jaclyn). Grades are really arbitrary- if I hated something that you don't care about, what's my grade mean to you? Nothing, that's what. So, instead, let's just talk about the movie.
So, I've glanced at a couple of other reviews of the film, and part of me is thinking "Did we watch the same film?" Because, really, there's nothing remotely unexpected about the plot. I swear to gods, every step of the way, I felt like I knew exactly what was going to happen. The problem here is partly the fault of the advertising. The film wants us to think that our man Don is a terrorist. But... well... he's the lead protagonist, and it's pretty damned clear from the trailers that he's not a terrorist. The first half of the film is set up with the expectation that we not know whether Don is or is not a terrorist. But we already know. He's not.
But, really, the plot is so completely conventional that even if it weren't for the advertising, there'd still be no real question about him. The setup is just too obvious. Once it's finally reveiled that he's not, in fact, a terrorist, but is actually in deeeeeep cover, the tension shifts from "is he/isn't he" to "will he get caught". This is more interesting, but, again, utterly predictable.
I don't even have to tell you what the "twist" is, here, and I bet you can guess. When it's reveiled that Don is in deep cover, we're given three pieces of information. From those three pieces of information, I'd bet a cookie you can tell what is going to happen.
1. He's in deep cover.
2. He has only one contact on the outside.
3. His contact hasn't told anyone about him.
Go ahead. Guess. You won't be wrong.
This kind of utterly predictable plot just keeps pressing through. And the thing is, it's not a bad plot, exactly. It's just... well... it's been done a million times. It's not bad, but it's pretty much completely forgetable.
The good news, however, is that the film treats the problem of terrorism as being a little more nuanced than the typical "Muslims hate us because Islam is full of evil!" that we're usually given. I'm not an expert, though, so I can't say how accurate the presentation is. And saying that it's more nuanced should be taken with a grain of salt. It's like pointing out that a pizza is better than Domino's pizza. It may be better, but that doesn't necessarily make it good, either. Almost anything that treats Muslim characters with more than paper-thin motivations and personalities is going to be better.
There are a number of Muslim characters in the film, of varying levels of devotion. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is that it presents the heads of the terrorist cells as being, essentially, war opportunists. They profit off of the death and destruction while leaving those of faith to accept the consequences and to suffer the casualties.
Don Cheadle and Said Taghmaoui turn in very good performances, but mostly left me wishing that this were a completely different film- maybe one that actually delved more deeply into their lives instead of trying to be all espionage/thriller. The rest of the cast aren't forgetable exactly. They're too cliche and ridiculous to be forgetable. Guy Pearce, in particular, is completely wasted here. His idiotic accent and hackneyed dialogue just completely overpowered every scene he's in. When he started on in his faux Texas accent about his "daddy" being a minister, I just wanted to tape his mouth shut.
Speaking of dialogue: it's bad. It's not just Pearce, either. The rule here is this- if you're a member of the US government, you will talk almost completely in trite jingoistic cliches.
Ultimately, Traitor isn't at all what I went in expecting. That it even attempts to treat terrorism as a complex issue and that it goes to any length to suggest that, you know, maybe not all Muslims fit neatly into a box both go above and beyond what I've come to expect from a film like this. Despite that, the film still feels like it could have been a lot more interesting if they'd focused on those issues more instead. It was more than I expected, but a lot less than it could have been.
I basically agree with this review.
This is a more generous review.