There’s exactly one interesting twist in “Traitor” — Don Cheadle’s character winds up being a double agent — but since the movie’s called “Traitor,” even that one surprise is squandered. (This information is also imparted in the trailer and TV spots, so relax, all you spoiler-phobes.)
Beyond that little tidbit, all “Traitor” has to offer is the usual skullduggery, with Islamic fundamentalists carrying out bombings and such on multiple continents, while dogged U.S. agents — who, cribbing from “The Departed,” don’t know that Cheadle’s character is on their side — give chase. The sub-“Bourne” level of this intrigue would be forgivable if “Traitor” had something new or interesting to say about the world we live in, but that never happens. All you’ll learn about the War on Terror from this movie is that one exists.
Cheadle stars as Samir Horn, a U.S. veteran and former Special Ops officer; when we first meet young Yemen-born Samir, he sees his beloved father die in a car bombing. Years later, adult Samir still holds true to the lessons of his late parent (a love of both Allah and of chess) while having a knack for always being near the scene of major international incidents.
Two FBI investigators — one of whom is played by Aussie Guy Pearce, giving one of the more painful suhthuhn-frahd Southern accents in recent memory — attempt to pursue Samir in his global travels but always come up short. While they remain convinced that Samir is linked to a string of bombings, they aren’t aware that he’s actually working for CIA spook Carter (Jeff Daniels), who has sent Samir deep undercover thanks to the latter’s combination of lethal skills and Muslim upbringing.
There are a few interesting scenes that show how money gets illicitly transferred into the hands of terror cells, but they’ll just make you wish you were watching a documentary on that subject. That’s a real shame, but Cheadle’s an interesting performer and the film’s political bent no doubt attracted him to take part.
The final result, unfortunately, suggests that writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (who scripted the entertaining but ludicrous “The Day After Tomorrow”) created an interesting outline for Samir but then never went back and filled in the blanks. No matter how talented Cheadle is, an actor can only play characters, not concepts.
Today’s global state of affairs has resulted in a handful of interesting films, ranging from the moving “In the Valley of Elah” and “Stop-Loss” to the satirical “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” to the metaphorical “The Dark Knight.” These are the exceptions, sadly, with most of the ripped-from-the-headlines movies being along the lines of the overwrought and dull “Rendition” and “Lions for Lambs.” Toss “Traitor” into the nice-try bin with these latter disappointments.