“So can somebody tell me why this wasn’t a TIFF Gala?”
TRAITOR written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, with Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough, Saïd Taghmaoui, Archie Panjabi and Jeff Daniels. An Alliance Films release. 112 minutes. Opens Friday (August 29). For venues and times, see film times. Rating: NNN
Despite the lousy release date, new Don Cheadle pic deserves a look
I can't remember the last time we got a decent movie on Labour Day weekend. It's the slowest weekend of the year in the movie business, so studios tend to use it as a dumping ground for the doggiest dogs of summer. Remember The Crow: City Of Angels? Of course you don't.
Traitor, on the other hand, is distinguished by its respectability and professionalism. Hell, if Don Cheadle's career were just a little hotter, this could have landed a Gala slot at TIFF and opened with the buzz of a serious fall drama. It's certainly as politically relevant as last year's Rendition, and not nearly as earnest.
Cheadle plays Samir Horn, an American Muslim who finds himself at the centre of an international terrorist plot. As he traverses the globe - from Yemen to Marseilles to Chicago, with a pit stop in Toronto, where most of the movie was actually shot - a pair of FBI agents (played with appropriate contrast by Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) race to piece his story together, and we're left to figure out his motives.
What does he want? How far will he go to achieve it? We know nothing of his backstory beyond a single traumatic event - as a child, he witnessed his Sudanese father's death by car bomb - but how does that explain his facility with explosives?
He's a devout Muslim who clearly has a better understanding of the Koran than his jihadi associates. But when push comes to shove, will he stand by his interpretation of the text, or theirs?
It's in this thorny midsection that the film - cooked up by executive producer Steve Martin on the set of Bringin' Down The House, according to the press notes - breaks away from the usual international-intrigue mechanics. Traitor has the structure of a Bourne thriller, but by building the story around a Muslim protagonist with full comprehension of his actions rather than an amnesiac white guy, it ventures into some much darker places.
There's just one problem: the geniuses at Summit Entertainment, Traitor's American distributor, have built their marketing campaign around a major spoiler. If you've seen the trailer or the TV spots, you're coming into the theatre a full hour ahead of the movie's plot, and Cheadle's tense, emotionally closed performance will seem a lot less effective.