February 21, 2009

#017: Traitor

Don Cheadle stars in this film about the inner workings of a terrorist organization. Going into this movie I hadn't heard anything about it, and had no expectations. I was completely unspoiled. Overall I thought it was a pretty good movie. It has good acting and provides some suspense. However, I didn't really get into the story, and felt the ending was weak. If you really want to see a movie about terrorists I might suggest The Kingdom. I liked that one better than Traitor. I wanted to write a post about Traitor, but I can't really discuss it without giving away some major plot points. So, if you haven't seen it yet, and want to be completely surprised by it, don't read this post. I don't feel this movie packed a whole lot of twists and surprises, but I also wouldn't have liked it as much if I knew the ending. I am planning on giving away pretty much everything, so be aware.

After this movie was over I felt almost like I had watched 3 different movies. I may have been over-thinking things, but the whole message and tone of the movie seemed to completely change as the plot changed. As it was happening I didn't like it. I was disappointed because after the beginning I had come to expect a certain type of movie, and it didn't deliver on that. The last act of this film almost seems as if it was removed from some other movie and tacked on to this one. For me it didn't seem to match what had been built up for the first 1.5 hours. When it was all said and done and I thought about it, I decided that most of this film was interesting and brought up some good questions, but the ending was lame.

The first part of this film opens up by introducing us to Don Cheadle's character Samir. Cheadle is a likable guy anyway, but there is something about the way Samir is portrayed that makes us see how good he is; how he is charismatic and powerful, yet kind. The viewer automatically should start rooting for this guy. The thing is, he is supposed to be a terrorist. That is the first problem I had with this movie. I am not sure how, but from the start I knew Samir wasn't a terrorist. I just knew that Cheadle wasn't going to be playing a terrorist. Also, I don't think Hollywood would actually make a movie that presents a terrorist in such a positive light. However, it took so long to find out Samir's true motives that I started to entertain the thought of him being a "bad guy". I didn't really believe it, I was just thinking "what if". I think it would have made for a very compelling movie. I really liked the character of Samir, but at what point would I turn on him. What would it take to turn my admiration into hatred? The filmmakers could have been tapping into our feelings and emotions towards terrorism in general. For me "terrorist" represents a faceless evil that absolutely has no redeeming qualities. It would have been interesting to find out how I would have reacted when I found out the "good" person I had been rooting for turned out to actually be a terrorist. One can argue that Omar represents that in this movie. He has depth, but not that much likability. The "real" terrorists, who are directing Omar & Samir and coordinating these attacks, are shallow characters which seem to be pure evil. The film even goes out of its way to show how the real terrorist don't even respect the Muslim faith, and are merely using it to control their foot soldiers. This portrayal of those characters completely lends itself to the stereotypes that I came into the movie with.

The second part of this film is when we find out that Samir actually is not a terrorist, but a secret US government agent who is in deep cover. Now there is an explanation for why Samir seems so great. Of course, he is working for the United States, why wouldn't be be awesome? Now the whole tone of the movie seems to change. Now we are faced with a question of how we go about catching terrorists, and does the ends justify the means. Sacrifices will have to be made, but is it all worth it if we can take down a terrorist organization. It was interesting here how they paralleled the terrorist leaders and Samir's commanding officer. Both are pressuring Samir to do things that he doesn't agree with. In both cases they accomplish this by preying on his faith and kindheartedness. At this point I thought the movie was going to continue in this direction. I also think this would have made for an interesting film. It is something that I hadn't really thought about before. However, the movie never seemed to go any further down that path. As I was watching, I got this feeling that the movie wanted to be about something important. It wanted to have this depth, but never quite got there. I felt like it had something important to say, but at the end I am really not sure what that could have been.

This brings us up to the ending. For me, the end starts when we see Samir's commanding officer get killed. Earlier in the film they go out of their way to explain that nobody else knows about Samir's undercover operations except for this one guy. Even his boss doesn't know who Samir really is. The entire film Samir is on the FBI's terrorist watch list and they are trying to track him down. So now, the only person who knew Samir was a good guy is dead. I wasn't expecting this, and when I saw him get killed I felt a lot of tension. How was Samir going to convince the FBI that he really was working for them? How was he going to accomplish this without blowing his cover with the terrorists? He seemed to be in a dire predicament that there was no easy way out of. I thought maybe he was going to flee with the terrorists and live the rest of his life in exile. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I was convinced that the rest of the time was going to be spent telling us this story. Much to my chagrin, this issue was resolved with a very short email... no questions asked. Then after that was resolved I felt the rest was very abrupt. There was no focus on the relationships that had been built throughout the entire movie. Specifically, the relationship between Samir and Omar seemed pointless in the end. I guess Samir didn't kill Omar, and he trusted that Omar wouldn't kill him, even though he was obviously the enemy at this point. The movie was just kind of anti-climactic for me. Then they came back and showed us this scene between Samir and the FBI agent. The action is all over, and they always have to come back and tie things up. For some movies, that is okay, but in this one it was pointless. I mean, why was that scene even there, and what did it accomplish? That really bugged me. It would have been better if they had left that part off. It offered nothing to the story other than to show us that Samir had lived and he wasn't going to be charged for the things he did. I don't think they had to give that to us, I know I would have been fine without it.


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