//The truth is complicated// reads the tagline to //Traitor/. It’s an appropriate line for a film that pitches itself as an intelligent, international thriller, wrapped in the abstrusities of terrorism, spooks, and the diffuse margins occupied by the government contractor.
Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) is a former U.S. special operations officer who we encounter arranging an arms deal with Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), terrorist leader of the Islamic brotherhood. When both are captured and imprisoned in a Yemeni jail, Samir’s devout Islamic faith impresses Omar who gets Samir out of jail and into terrorism.
While in many ways //Traitor// is a classic international thriller, flitting between London, Marseilles, Nice, Paris, Chicago, Canada and the Yemen, it sets its sights far higher. Playing with the obvious audience assumption that Samir is the titular traitor, the film’s essential drive is to resolve who, and what, he betrays.
This narrative uncertainty lends itself to some perceived moral ambiguity that has attracted criticism in the US. Samir is a terrorist but, as impressively played by Cheadle, is a devout, intelligent and complex character whose motivations are unclear.
In one scene the terrorists even compare the US’s struggle for independence with their own cause. There is, however, a difference between portraying a view, and supporting it. In this sense the film’s aim is informed and realistic subjectivity, rather than moral relativism.
Well-worn genre roles – Guy Jackman’s straight-arrow FBI agent and Jeff Daniels’ murky contractor chief amongst them – hint at implicit US soul-searching, but the moral debate remains ostensibly with Samir’s struggle to reconcile his faith, which teaches that ‘to kill an innocent person is to kill all mankind’, with moral action.
But perhaps the most interesting question, if one uncomfortable to answer, is whether the US would be making such films had 9/11 not happened?