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Traitor | Movie Review & Trailer | Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough, Jeff Daniels, Said Taghmaoui

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  Traitor Movie Review (3 Stars)
      Movie Reviews by Michael Phillips


Traitor Movie Review

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"Traitor" asks a question that can only be answered by that cruel mistress, the marketplace: How much moral ambiguity and narrative intricacy will an audience handle in the realm of a terrorism-themed contemporary thriller?

Enough, I hope, to respond to "Traitor." It tells a good, snakelike story, slithering in some unpredictable directions.

All along the way Don Cheadle, who plays the mysterious operative creating and running an espionage maze of his own design, reaffirms his excellence.

He is an honest, responsive actor, and as a rogue ex-U.S. Special Operations officer and highly conflicted Muslim, Cheadle recalls a variety of old-school stars -- everyone from Spencer Tracy to Sidney Poitier -- in the way he keeps it simple and puts the story needs ahead of his own.

The story was cooked up by Steve Martin. Yes, that Steve Martin. The entire narrative constitutes a series of spoilers, so I'll be brief and cryptic.

We begin with a quick prologue in 1978 Sudan. A boy witnesses a car bombing. Swiftly, we're whisked into present-day Yemen, and the Sudanese boy has become a man shaped by violence. He is Samir Horn (Cheadle).

How did this man, whom we later learn spent many years in Chicago, become part of the jihadist cause represented by Omar (Said Taghmaoui)? That's one story track. Another is a riddle: While the film's title clues you into Samir's double-edged nature, "Traitor" plays an intriguing shell game with the specifics, and with the role in the story played by CIA contractor Carter (Jeff Daniels).

Most screenwriters working with this sort of scenario would go out of their way to marginalize and fully, madly, deeply demonize the jihad-driven characters.

"Traitor," despite what you're likely to hear on "Hannity & Colmes," is not anti-American. It does, however, let Samir -- an ambiguous and shape-shifting character -- run the story and, for much of it, stay one step ahead of his global pursuers, FBI agents Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Archer (Neal McDonough).

The writer-director is Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who wrote the eco-disaster pic "The Day After Tomorrow." This one's a lot more interesting. What Nachmanoff, making his feature directorial debut, does best here is bring a sudden, nerve-racking quality to the violence. Most political thrillers are preoccupied with exciting the audience and making it feel good about the bad guys dying in brainlessly colorful ways. This one is more about pulling us into its labyrinth and messing with our sympathies, craftily.

A few things hold "Traitor" back from complete success. Now and then the storytelling slips out of complexity into perplexity. The climax's resolution is clever in theory, but it's bound to leave some people cold.

And on a medium-size budget, based on recent cinematic evidence, the toughest thing for computer-generated effects to achieve convincingly is a fiery explosion.

Problems aside, this is a good, twisty, absorbing work. "For years we have been planting martyrs in our midst," one character says, as the jihadist plot to disrupt America in its heartland reveals itself. Post-9/11, the film industry has lost its bearings regarding what will satisfy a mainstream crowd. Can a story that races around the world, only to conclude that the world is a matrix of murky, destructive alliances, find a receptive audience? Thanks to Cheadle's watchful intelligence, among other things, I certainly hope so.


MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language).

Running time: 1:54.

Starring: Don Cheadle (Samir Horn); Guy Pearce (Roy Clayton); Neal McDonough (Max Archer); Jeff Daniels (Carter); Said Taghmaoui (Omar).

Written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff; photographed by J. Michael Muro; edited by Billy Fox; production design by Laurence Bennett; music by Mark Kilian; produced by Cheadle, David Hoberman, Jeffrey Silver, Todd Lieberman. An Overture Films

About "Traitor" the Movie

When straight arrow FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) heads up the investigation into a dangerous international conspiracy, all clues seem to lead back to former US Special Operations officer, Samir Horn (Don Cheadle).

A mysterious figure with a web of connections to terrorist organizations, Horn has a knack for emerging on the scene just as a major operation goes down. The inter-agency task force looking into the case meets with Carter (Jeff Daniels), a veteran CIA contractor who seemingly has his own agenda and Max Archer (Neal McDonough), a fellow FBI agent.

The task force links Horn to a prison break in Yemen, a bombing in Nice and a raid in London, but a tangle of contradictory evidence emerges, forcing Clayton to question whether his quarry is a disaffected former military operative - or something far more complicated. Obsessed with discovering the truth, Clayton tracks Horn across the globe as the elusive ex-soldier burrows deeper and deeper into a world of shadows and intrigue.

About the Cast "Traitor" the Movie

DON CHEADLE (Samir Horn, Producer) has consistently turned in powerful performances on stage and screen since being named Best Supporting Actor by the Los Angeles Film Critics for his breakout performance opposite Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress. Cheadle was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor in Hotel Rwanda, the true story of a hotel manager who saves hundreds from slaughter during Rwanda's genocidal massacres of 1994. The film won top honors at the 2004 Toronto and AFI Film Festivals and garnered Cheadle Best Actor nominations at the Golden Globes, Broadcast Film Critics Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards. Cheadle was featured in the Oscar-winning ensemble film Crash (Best Picture), alongside Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton. Cheadle also produced the film, which was written and directed by Oscar winner Paul Haggis. His producing credits include the recent documentary Darfur Now and Talk to Me, a drama in which Cheadle starred as the pioneering radio personality Petey Greene.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Cheadle attended the prestigious California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, where he received his bachelor's degree in Fine Arts. With the encouragement of his college friends, Cheadle auditioned for a variety of television roles while attending school and landed a recurring role on the hit series "Fame." This lead to feature film roles in Colors, directed by Dennis Hopper; John Irvin's Hamburger Hill, opposite Dylan McDermott; and Meteor Man, directed by Robert Townsend.

Though well known for his two-year stint in the role of District Attorney John Littleton on David E. Kelley's critically acclaimed series "Picket Fences," Cheadle's other television credits include a guest-starring arc on "ER" (earning him an Emmy nomination), a series regular role on "The Golden Palace" and a recurring part on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Cheadle was also part of the stellar cast of the thrilling live broadcast of "Fail Safe" on CBS, starring opposite George Clooney, James Cromwell, Brian Dennehy, Richard Dreyfus and Harvey Keitel.

Cheadle received a Golden Globe award for his remarkable portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr. in HBO's telefilm "The Rat Pack," a performance that was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy. That same year, he received a Best Actor Emmy nomination for his starring role in HBO's adaptation of the critically acclaimed, best-selling novel A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines. Cheadle starred opposite Cicely Tyson and Mekhi Phifer. He also starred for HBO in "Rebound: The Legend of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault," directed by Eriq La Salle.

Cheadle's feature-film credits include Ocean's Thirteen, his third appearance opposite George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Steven Soderbergh's popular heist series, and Reign Over Me, with Adam Sandler. He made an appearance as Henri Mooré, a delusional underworld crime figure, opposite Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek in Brett Ratner's After the Sunset, and had a cameo in The Assassination of Richard Nixon, opposite Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.

Other film credits include the Academy Award-winning Traffic and Out of Sight, both directed by Steven Soderbergh. Cheadle played the memorable role of Buck in Paul Thomas Anderson's serio-comic look at the porn industry, Boogie Nights. He also starred in Volcano, with Tommy Lee Jones; Bulworth, with Warren Beatty; Swordfish, with John Travolta and Halle Berry; and Mission to Mars, with Tim Robbins and Gary Sinise. Cheadle received an NAACP Image Award nomination for his work in John Singleton's Rosewood. He also delivered a memorable comedic cameo as a guardian angel in Brett Ratner's Family Man, opposite Nicolas Cage.

Cheadle has embraced independent features such as the all-digital Manic, for director Jordan Melamed, and The United States of Leland, opposite Ryan Gosling and Kevin Spacey. His powerful performance in Alison Anders' Things Behind the Sun garnered Cheadle Emmy and Independent Spirit Award nominations.

An accomplished stage actor, Cheadle originated the role of Booth in Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Top Dog Underdog" at New York's Public Theatre, under the direction of George C. Wolfe. His other stage credits include "Leon, Lena and Lenz" at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Liquid Skin" at the Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis, "Cymbeline" at the New York Shakespeare Festival, "'Tis a Pity She's a Whore" at Chicago's Goodman Theater and Athol Fugard's South African play "Blood Knot," at The Complex Theater in Hollywood.

A talented musician who plays saxophone, writes music and sings, Cheadle is also an accomplished director of stage productions including "Cincinnati Man" at the Attic Theater, the critically acclaimed "The Trip" at Friends and Artists Theater in Hollywood and "Three, True, One" at the Electric Lodge in Venice, California.

In addition to his many acting honors, Cheadle was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Spoken Word Album for his narration/dramatization of the Walter Mosley novel, Fear Itself.

Cheadle currently resides in Los Angeles.

GUY PEARCE (Roy Clayton) is known for a variety of memorable roles from the flamboyant drag queen Felicia Jolly Goodfellow in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to the by-the-book cop Ed Exley in Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential. But it was Christopher Nolan's psychological thriller Memento that captured the most attention for the Australian actor. Pearce played Leonard Shelby, a man suffering from short-term memory loss who tries to solve his wife's murder. Pearce will next be seen in the upcoming films The Hurt Locker, How to Change in 9 Weeks and Winged Creatures.

After many years performing in Australian theatre, Pearce began his film career in 1988 in Pina Amenta's feature Heaven Tonight. Since then, he has appeared in a number of feature films including First Snow, Two Brothers, The Hard Word, The Time Machine, Count of Monte Cristo, Till Human Voices Wake Us, Rules of Engagement, Ravenous, Woundings, Dating the Enemy, Flynn, The Proposition and Hunting. His recent credits include roles as Andy Warhol in Factory Girl opposite Sienna Miller and the immortal Harry Houdini in Gillian Armstrong's Death Defying Acts, opposite Catherine Zeta Jones.

NEAL McDONOUGH (Max Archer) has displayed astonishing versatility with a wide range of roles in film, television and theater, joining a select group of actors who combine a leading man's profile with a character actor's art. He recently starred as a Marine captain in Clint Eastwood's award-nominated Flags of Our Fathers and played a Coast Guard rescue swimmer haunted by tragedy in The Guardian, alongside Kevin Costner. McDonough appears in several upcoming films including Michael Caleo's The Last Time, co-starring Michael Keaton and Brendan Fraser; Paul Kampf's American Gothic, with Patrick Wilson; and the indie film Forever Strong, for director Ryan Little.

Raised in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, McDonough attended Syracuse University and later trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. It was McDonough's co-starring role in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, alongside Tom Cruise, that first drew audiences' attention.

In the Golden Globe and Emmy-winning HBO mini-series "Band of Brothers," produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, McDonough starred as Buck Compton, a rugged World War II hero whose all-American veneer is cracked by the horrors of war. He played a starring role on NBC's drama "Medical Investigation" as Dr. Stephen Connor, the head of a highly skilled team of specialists who investigate mysterious illnesses. McDonough is perhaps best known as Deputy District Attorney David McNorris in the acclaimed NBC drama, "Boomtown." His work was recognized by the Television Critics Association with a nomination for Individual Achievement in Drama. He recently appeared in the Sci Fi Channel's six-hour miniseries "Tin Man" with Zooey Deschanel and Alan Cumming.

McDonough's stage credits include "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Always Alone," the latter production earning him a Dramalogue Best Actor award.

On the big screen, McDonough's credits include Timeline, co-starring Paul Walker; Walking Tall, alongside Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson; and Jeff Hare's A Perfect Little Man, which earned him the Best Actor Award at the 2000 Atlantic City Film Festival. He was recently seen in Rogue Pictures' The Hitcher, alongside Sophia Bush; the thriller I Know Who Killed Me, opposite Lindsay Lohan and Julia Ormond; and Jon Avnet's 88 Minutes, with Al Pacino.

McDonough lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Ruvé, and two children.

SAÏD TAGHMAOUI (Omar) was first noticed by film enthusiasts in his role as the Arab punk in the French crime drama La Haine, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995. The film went on to win many awards around the world at various film festivals, as well as earning Taghmaoui a César nomination (France's equivalent of the Academy Award) as Most Promising Newcomer. He was recently seen in Marc Forster's acclaimed film The Kite Runner.

Taghmaoui was born in France to Moroccan parents. A former boxer who was ranked second in his division at the height of his athletic career, Taghmaoui chose a different option-acting-thanks to his friendship with writer and director Mathieu Kassovitz. Together, they wrote La Haine, which Kassovitz directed and Taghmaoui starred in. The film won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival and three Césars for Best Picture, Best Producer and Best Editor. Taghmaoui was also honored as one of the youngest and most valued international Arab actors through Omar Sharif's presentation of the Golden Pyramid Award at the Cairo International Film Festival.

After many French films to his credit, Taghmaoui's first English-language role was as Kate Winslet's lover in Hideous Kinky, which led to him being cast as the brutal Iraqi officer in David O. Russell's Three Kings. Since then, Taghmaoui has starred in Neil Jordan's The Good Thief, David Mamet's Spartan and Joe Johnston's Hidalgo, opposite Viggo Mortensen. He reunited with David O. Russell in I Heart Huckabees.

MOZHAN MARNO (Leyla) recently co-starred in Charlie Wilson's War with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. She appears in the forthcoming drama August alongside Josh Hartnett and Naomie Harris and is currently shooting the action drama Under the Same Sky.

Marno was born in Los Angeles and went to boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts. She has also lived in France, Germany, Sweden and Argentina. Marno spent her college years in New York City, earning a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and her M.F.A. in Acting from Yale Drama School. She speaks English, French, Farsi, German and some Spanish.

Marno's television credits include guest-starring roles in the series "K-Ville," "Shark," "Standoff" and "The Unit."

JEFF DANIELS (Carter) found his first popular success with Terms of Endearment, playing the philandering husband of Debra Winger's character. His recent performance in The Squid and the Whale earned him Independent Spirit Award and Golden Globe nominations, as well as Newsweek's choice for Best Actor of 2005. Daniels co-stars in the upcoming films State of Play, Dreams of Romans and The Farlanders.

Daniels launched his film career from the New York stage. Raised in Michigan, Daniels attended Central Michigan University, where he majored in English and minored in theater. Impressed with the 21-year-old actor, guest director Marshall W. Mason invited him to join the acclaimed Circle Repertory Company in New York. His stage credits from this period include "The Farm," Lanford Wilson's "Brontosaurus," and Corinne Jacker's "My Life," co-starring Christopher Reeve and William Hurt. Other New York roles include "Three Sisters," "Short Changed Review," "Lemon Sky" (earning Daniels a Drama Desk nomination), and A.R. Gurney's "The Golden Age," with Stockard Channing and Irene Worth. Daniels worked with Marshall Mason again on Broadway in Lanford Wilson's "Redwood Curtain" in 1993. In the spring of 2007, he returned to the off-Broadway stage in the critically acclaimed American premiere of David Harrower's "Blackbird."

The role of Jed Jenkins in Lanford Wilson's "Fifth of July" won Daniels his first widespread recognition. After three different productions and filming the play for television, Daniels returned to Circle Rep to star in a one-man show adapting Dalton's Trumbo's "Johnny Got His Gun," an effort for which he won a 1983 Obie Award.

On television, Daniels recently starred in Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Sweet Nothings in My Ear," opposite Marlee Matlin. His other television credits include "Invasion of Privacy," "A Rumor of War," "The Visit," "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial," "The Jackie Presser Story," "No Place Like Home," "Tanner '88," "The Crossing," "Cheaters" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven."

Daniels made his feature-film debut in Milos Forman's Ragtime. Other credits include Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days, Mike Nichols' Heartburn, Jonathan Demme's Something Wild, House on Carroll Street, Marie, Checking Out, Welcome Back, Roxy Carmichael, The Butcher's Wife, Grand Tour, Arachnophobia, Gettysburg, Speed, Dumb & Dumber, Fly Away Home, 2 Days in the Valley, 101 Dalmatians, Trial and Error, Pleasantville, My Favorite Martian, All the Rage, Chasing Sheep, Blood Work, The Hours, Gods and Generals, I Witness, Imaginary Heroes, Because of Winn Dixie, RV, Good Night, and Good Luck, Infamous and The Lookout.

In 1991, Daniels established the Purple Rose Theatre Company, a not-for-profit professional theatre in the small town of Chelsea, Michigan. Since then, the PRTC has gained a national reputation as a home for new American plays. Daniels has written 12 plays for the Purple Rose, including "Apartment 3A," "Boom Town" and "Guest Artist," 2007 Runner Up for Best New Play by the American Theatre Critics Association. In 2003, "Across the Way" was a finalist and Daniels' first nomination for ATCA's Best New Play. In the fall of 2006, the Purple Rose premiered "Escanaba in Love," the second play of Daniels' "Escanaba Trilogy." "Escanaba in Da Moonlight" sold out in 1995 and 1997, setting the record as the longest-running show in Detroit history. His latest play with music, "Panhandle Slim & The Oklahoma Kid" will premiere at the Purple Rose in June 2008.

In 1998, Daniels formed Purple Rose Films. The company's first project, Escanaba in Da Moonlight, earned $2.3 million despite being self-distributed, making it one of 2001's top-grossing independent films in the U.S. Daniels' second venture, Super Sucker, won the Audience Award for Best Feature at the HBO-sponsored U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado, in February 2002.

Daniels' songwriting has taken him all over the country. Initially a way to raise money for the Purple Rose, Daniels' live performance and guitar playing can be heard on his three CDs: "Live and Unplugged at the Purple Rose," "Grandfather's Hat" and "Together Again." More information regarding his music career can be found at

Daniels was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Central Michigan University. In 1991, he received both the Detroit News' Michiganian Of The Year Award and the prestigious Governor's Michigan Artist Award.

ARCHIE PANJABI (Chandra) made her film debut in the smash hit Film Four/Miramax comedy East is East in 1999. The film received a standing ovation at Cannes and won The Evening Standard Best Film Award as well as the prestigious Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film in 2000. Panjabi went on to appear in Bend It Like Beckham, starring Keira Knightley. Her performance as Pinky, the "tart-with-a-heart," won her a BBC Mega Mela award. The film was nominated for a BAFTA for Best British Film in 2003.

Panjabi played the lead in the critically acclaimed film Yasmin (2005), written by the Oscar-nominated writer of The Full Monty, Simon Beaufoy. For her performance, Panjabi was awarded Best Actress at The Reims Festival and The Shooting Star Award at the International Berlin Film Festival.

Panjabi's other film credits include Ridley Scott's A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe; Michael Winterbottom's Code 46; The Constant Gardener, with Ralph Fiennes; This Little Life, with David Morrissey; and A Mighty Heart, alongside Angelina Jolie. For her performance in the latter film, Panjabi won The Chopard Trophy at Cannes 2007.

The actress has also starred in a number of high-profile television projects. In 2002, Panjabi appeared in "White Teeth," a four-part Channel 4 adaptation of Zadie Smith's award-winning novel. Directed by Julian Jarrold, "White Teeth" was aired by PBS in 2003 and earned three BAFTA nominations. She also had television roles in "Sea of Souls," "Grease Monkeys" and "A Very Social Secretary." Panjabi provides voices for several characters in the hugely popular animated series "Postman Pat."

ALY KHAN (Fareed) has worked as a professional actor for over 15 years in Bollywood. His film career includes a wide range of genres, from the futuristic sci-fi feature The Body (Deham) to the based-on-a-true-story thriller Escape from Taliban and the drama Stumped. Khan was recently introduced to North American audiences in the film A Mighty Heart.

Khan's television work reflects a prolific and diverse range of programming. He has hosted India's first travel show, "Namaste India," the cooking show "IFB Star Sunday Lunch" and played pivotal characters in over a dozen award-winning soap operas, including "Banegi Apni Baat," "Lipstick," "Dhund" and "Dushman."

The actor's stage work includes "Hamlet," "Legend of Ram," "Begum Sumroo" and "The Lover," among other productions.

Khan has hosted the Mumbai Marathon on Zee TV two years in a row and co-hosted India's first telethon for CRY, called "The CRYathon." The list of live performances in which he has participated as a host is endless, spanning fashion, sports, corporate functions, award shows, product launches, pageants, charity galas and auctions.

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Traitor Movie Review Starring Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough, Jeff Daniels, Said Taghmaoui | Film Critic Michael Phillips Reviews Traitor | Video

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