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Traitor is a relentless suspense thriller with a jaw-dropping twist that will have you on the edge of your seat.


Although politically charged Middle Eastern terrorist themes have generally been box office poison of late, Traitor is worth a look as it ratchets up the suspense to levels that make it this year's successor to The Bourne Ultimatum. Don Cheadle stars as U.S. Special Opps officer Samir Horn, a renegade military operative who walks the fine line between good and evil to the point where even HE isn't sure which side he is working for. FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) is hot on his tail in one of those enormously complicated undercover jobs. Horn conveniently stays two steps ahead of authorities, who have reason to believe he may be working as a double agent with deep and dangerous connections to key terrorist organizations. A task force links him to various illegal operations in Yemen, Nice and London, and soon he becomes one of FBI's Most Wanted--a man of contradictions and covert strategies that are perhaps not in the best interests of the United States. Muddying the waters is his secretive relationship with a veteran CIA contractor, Carter (Jeff Daniels), who may have an unofficial agenda at odds with the agency. As Clayton tracks Horn around the world, a high stakes game of cat and mouse leads to some surprising twists and turns.


With Hotel Rwanda's Don Cheadle in the lead and a ripped-from-the-headlines plotline you might be inclined to think Traitor is going to be one of those overly serious, not-so-fun dramatic pieces. Think again. Cheadle comes off more like Matt Damon in the Bourne movies and nails this heavy action role, focusing as much on the chase as on the complicated dialogue he has to deliver (including some very convincing Arabic). Key to the role is keeping the audience on edge and constantly questioning Horn's motives as he does his high wire act on the gray line between black and white. Cheadle plays him as a man trying to do good, but one who isn't quite sure what that means anymore. Although the actor dominates the landscape, Pearce as the agent in pursuit is also very effective in his dogged determination to come to the truth. Their relationship is reminiscent of the one between Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. Also impressive in his few scenes are Jeff Daniels, as the morally ambiguous independent CIA contractor, and Neal McDonough as Clayton's partner. In what could have been stereotypical terrorist roles, casting real Arabic actors paid off with nicely authentic performances from a group of fine international performers including Aly Khan (A Mighty Heart) and Said Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner).


Writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff successfully makes the transition from full-time screenwriter (The Day After Tomorrow) to a talent with a clear set of skills behind the camera. For a directing novice, Nachmanoff has done his homework and has created a pulse-pounding action thriller that doesn't miss a beat but still remains a complex drama to its core. Expertly blending some fine cinematography and superb editing, the director makes this Middle-Eastern epic work as pure entertainment first, and political polemic second. Interestingly, it wasn't Nachmanoff who came up with the intriguing concept, but comedian Steve Martin, who wrote the initial treatment thinking it would be a nifty premise for a movie. He was absolutely right.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.