If you're looking for a neat-and-tidy, blurb-tastic way to sum up "Traitor," it's this: It's "Donnie Brasco" with explosives.
This globe-trotting, partially engaging thriller has Don Cheadle as Samir Horn, a former U.S. military man and devout Muslim who has gone rogue and is selling explosives to the highest bidder. A man of Sudanese and American descent who saw his daddy blown up in a car bombing, he'd rather serve time in a Yemeni prison than collaborate with the FBI (led by Guy Pearce with a Southern twang), after an ambush sends him there.
While he's there, he befriends terrorist/equally devout Muslim Omar (Said Taghmaoui), who breaks him out of jail and hooks him up with a terrorist operation intent on waking up the world with their catastrophes. But little does everyone know -- from his terrorist brethren to the FBI, who have made him their prime suspect -- (and since the TV ads have already revealed this, I'm not spoiling anything) that Horn is actually working deep, deep, deep undercover for the U.S. government. So, I guess this also means this is "Deep Cover" with explosives.
While working on "Traitor," Cheadle reportedly called the movie "the black 'Bourne'" (referring to his "Ocean's Eleven" co-star Matt Damon's blockbuster spy-thriller series). Unfortunately, it doesn't leave you as excitably frazzled as that trilogy does. Although "Traitor" adopts the "Bourne" movies' taste for pseudo-artsy cinematography and setting scenes in as many jet-setting locales as possible (it's funny how the movie goes to such international hot spots as London and Paris, but when the flick hits North America, it often ends up in Canada), it's a movie that's less unpredictable -- and less ambiguous -- than it thinks it is.
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Writer and first-time director Jeffrey Nachmanoff ("The Day After Tomorrow"), working off an idea courtesy of Steve Martin, of all people, certainly isn't looking for any red-state love by humanizing the terrorists, even making them just as stubborn and arrogant in declaring their superiority as we Americans have a tendency to be. But, of course, it's all about peace and understanding, as the movie's final scene lets us know very thickly. Since "Traitor" has a message that it's ready to lay out like an Afghan rug, the movie's enlightenment aspect often overrules the entertainment aspect. It's a popcorn flick that would much rather be for your consideration.
We all should know by now that Cheadle (who also serves as a producer) won't star in a movie that'll have us wasting our time. So, you can rest assured that he keeps us intrigued, owning every scene he's in while giving the other actors room to have their moments, even when "Traitor" begins to resemble the kind of low-impact, straight-to-cable actioner you see on the USA Network all the time.