Sunday, December 21, 2008

Traitor: Grade B

Traitor (2008)
Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Saïd Taghmaoui, Jeff Daniels; Co-Writer & Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff.

You’ll need motion-sickness medication to watch this movie. The camera swoops, spins, tracks and zooms dizzyingly in every scene. Fast pans move from one close up shot to another so quickly you can hardly tell what you’re looking at and if you try to follow the motion your eyes will cross. The movements are completely gratuitous, seriously detracting from the film. When it is not swooping around, the camera is hand held, jumping and jittering wildly with the action but incomprehensibly, shot from no consistent point of view. This syntax of camera-as-character is common in television, but usually done more intelligently. But all is not lost, for in the last 1/3 of the film they apparently changed personnel and the movie settles down to a much more enjoyable, professional looking work. You just have to make it through the first hour.

And you should try, for this is basically a good movie. Don Cheadle is a deep undercover agent for the US Government, penetrating a terrorist organization based in Yemen. His undercover status is not revealed for the first 45 minutes, (although I guessed it right away -- he is Don Cheadle, after all), so we first get to know him as an explosives dealer who also instructs his customers in making bombs and suicide vests. Taghmaoui is the militant Islamic extremist who Cheadle befriends. To earn his bones, Cheadle must blow up an American embassy in Europe, which causes him a crisis of conscience, and we learn that his character really is a devout Muslim, not just an undercover pretender. Acting is consistently superb throughout. The dialog is intelligent and the story is engaging. However, sets, scenes and costumes are so self-consciously overdone that they are unconvincing. It is courageous of Cheadle to put his career at risk by playing an Islamic terrorist but he plays it extremely well, so much so that we can understand the point of view of the anti-American Islamic extremists. Despite its flaws, good acting and a good story make the move worth seeing.

No comments:

Post a Comment