It's late summer, so you can't blame Traitor for not bothering to try too hard. It's got Don Cheadle and Jeff Daniels in it, after all, which is reasonable star power, and a hot-button plot revolving around terrorist attacks on American soil. Making Traitor something more than a disposable B-movie was possible, but at this point in the release calendar, way more effort than it was worth. If espionage thrillers are your thing, this one may just tide you over until James Bond comes back in November.
Cheadle stars as Samir Horn, a Sudan-born American who has gone to work for Muslim extremist groups, using his weapons expertise to help execute attacks all over the world. Charged with tracking him down is Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce), an FBI agent who, for some reason, is conducting an international investigation. He sends Samir to prison early in the film, but thanks to the help of his friend Omar (Said Taghmaoui) and some buddies on the outside, Samir escapes from the Yemen prison and starts planning a series of terrorist attacks that target Americans.
In the meantime, Clayton meets with Samir's mother and girlfriend, trying to figure out what made him turn to terrorism and inspiring lots of boilerplate lines like “Bingo! You've got yourself a terrorist.” Only after Samir helps execute terrorist attacks in both London and Spain, killing several innocent people in the process, are we given a plot point that's revealed in the trailer--Samir is actually a super-secret agent for the CIA, and only Carter (Jeff Daniels), knows he's actually on the side of the good guys. Of course, when only one person knows your true identity, you're in a pickle when that person becomes incapacitated. And that's how Clayton and Samir, both of them working for the same team, spend the last quarter of the movie chasing each other across the continent.
Because the plot never bothers to stick with one story for too long, it leaves plot holes that will bother the more skeptical viewer-- like why an FBI agent is dealing with an international terrorism case, or how Samir can explain away the deaths in the terrorist attacks that weren't completely orchestrated by Carter. Cheadle is amazingly sympathetic as the devout Muslim Samir, but there's not enough room in the convoluted plot for him to be a convincing terrorist for half the film and then a hero in the finale. And Pearce, good as he was in movies like Memento and L.A. Confidential, is terribly bland here, affecting a Southern accent and cop swagger that never successfully build his character.
But hey, the movie ends in a satisfying climax, and there are even some neat explosions along the way. Traitor is not excessively dumb or bloodthirsty, and in its own awkward way wants to say something about the way we define “good” and “bad” in this modern war on terror. First-time director Jeffrey Nachmanoff handles things competently enough, and anyone who's worn out on Tom Clancy novels could probably do worse. But for a better structured plot and more interesting thoughts on terrorism, a third viewing of The Dark Knight would be a safer bet.