Ridley Scott tackled the War on Terror last year with his muscular action thriller Body of Lies (which gets its DVD release on Monday 30th March). Now another film turns up at the cinema with the aim of getting to grips with America’s fraught relationship with the Islamic world while delivering an action movie’s thrills and spills.
Based on an original idea by Steve Martin (yes, that one), the film stars Don Cheadle as Samir Horn, a Sudan-born, American-educated Muslim who used to be a US Special Forces explosives expert but now appears to be working with an Islamic terror cell responsible for a series of bombings across Europe.
As the group’s attentions switch to the US, FBI agent Roy Clayton (played by Guy Pearce) leads a desperate hunt for Horn, but is his quarry actually playing a dangerous double game?
Traitor distinguishes itself from Body of Lies by making its protagonist a Muslim with ambivalent loyalties, rather than a conflicted American. (In this respect, the movie actually more closely resembles the US TV series Sleeper Cell.) Writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff bends over backwards to be even-handed, but his attempts at balance come over as earnestly unsubtle.
So, to give one example, Pearce’s thoughtful, enlightened FBI agent (he even has a PhD in Arabic studies, for heaven’s sake) gets counterpoised by a fellow agent played by Neal McDonough, a knee-jerk bigot who’s in favour of torture – just in case we’d forgotten that the West has its bad apples too.
Nachmanoff’s heart is clearly in the right place, and he handles his plot’s twists and turns competently, until, that is, he goes off the rails completely with a fatuous ending. Yet, ultimately, his film’s very worthiness dragged it down. Compared with Traitor’s pious scruples, I found Body of Lies’ murky moral equivocations much more convincing and exciting.
General release from 27th March