2008 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

Here's a novelty: a sweaty, 24-style action thriller about the war on terror - from a story by Steve Martin. But it's no laughing matter when US army-trained, Muslim explosives expert Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) joins a fundamentalist group plotting a multiple suicide bomb attack on US soil. Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough are the Feds on Horn's trail - but do they know what he's really up to?

Director

  • Jeffrey Nachmanoff

Cast

  • Don Cheadle

  • Guy Pearce

  • Saïd Taghmaoui

  • Neal McDonough

  • Archie Panjabi

Review

Earnest and enigmatic, Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn, a staunch Muslim and former US army special op whom we meet flogging Semtex to terrorists in Yemen.

Busted by FBI task force agents Clayton and Archer (Pearce and McDonough, both freewheeling through undemanding roles), Samir is thrown in jail where he joins terror's advocate Omar (Said Taghmaoui) for life/chess analogies and a spectacular if unsubtle breakout.

With his expertise in explosives, Samir becomes a key figure in Omar's brotherhood, which specialises in the enlistment and training of suicide bombers. His stock rises further after causing a spot of carnage on his own.

But the organisation's masterplan will be executed on the American mainland. Samir is to have the honour of putting fifty martyrs onto fifty buses with fifty briefcases.

He does, however, have another agenda which neither the Feds nor his Muslim brothers know anything about...

As story conceiver and executive producer of this edgy(ish) conspiracy yarn, Steve Martin clearly wants to be taken seriously. Which is a relief as he stopped making people laugh years ago.

But as well as providing thrills at a decent lick, the odd twist and a crash-course in Islam For Dummies, Traitor also dips into the murky waters of conscience and morality... and still manages to be more amusing than the new Inspector Clouseau.

Like one of Jack Bauer's jihads, Traitor is set in a not-bloody-likely world where everyone is in exactly the right (or wrong) place at exactly the right (or wrong) time to suit the plot.

Passport control? Forget it. Security checks at the US Embassy? No such thing. Suspect been spotted but you're at 37,000 feet? We'll have you down and chasing your man through underground tunnels within minutes.

Still, the secret of 24's success is to rattle through its contrivances with a straight face. In that regard, director Jeffrey Nachmanoff does a creditable job (having dealt with a different kind of disaster in his screenplay for The Day After Tomorrow).

Martin's story makes some interesting observations; the bombers and their sponsors could be anyone - the businessman next door, the pretty student in the park, the guy serving cappuccinos in the cafe.

Unfortunately, Nachmanoff's screenplay peppers them with holier-than-thou dialogue that doesn't always stand up to scrutiny.

When Clayton describes Samir as a devout Muslim, his mother retorts "He's a Muslim. There is no sliding scale." Hmm. Nice line though, ma'am.

It'll be interesting to see where Martin goes from here. Meanwhile, here's Islamist rabble-rouser Abu Hamza with his explosive new take on Planes, Trains & Automobiles