Traitor (2008)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Alyy Khan
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes

The dynamics of the Middle Eastern conflict are ever-changing, as are their perception from the outside world. The bottom-line truth is the Middle East, for all of its centralized resources clout, simply wants to be left alone to tend to their own affairs. The war waged by former President Bush was viewed by Iraq and its neighboring territories as an invasion by infidels, modern-day crusaders looking to thrust their Christian and capitalist ideals upon a region whose faith stems centuries beyond the establishment of these Western principles.

You can see with the recently-ignited Israel-Gaza war that the wounds cut far deeper than 9/11 when America got officially involved. Iran showed it could bully the mighty superpower during the Carter administration and honestly, relations between the two regions have not only been strained ever since, it's given Middle Eastern extremists all the motivation they've needed to make their bloody stand. You can look upon American and British soldiers as heroes or global enforcers, but as George W. Bush leaves Washington, DC for his successor to clean up the mess he's created in Iraq and Afghanistan, part of the public perception is that President-Elect Obama will possibly be viewed by the rest of the world as a calming figurehead with which to mend fences.

Or, if you watch the action espionage film "Traitor," you might not be able to predict which way the pendulum will swing towards mutual harmony with our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters who are left literally shell-shocked from the brutal violence of the past seven years from forces who really had no business being there after swerving due right from the original attack plan. After all, Americans are still largely suspect of a growing population of newly-arrived citizens from the Middle East, many of whom run popular chain establishments. Said lingering paranoia left in the wake of a fizzling-out Republican war is tapped by "Traitor."

Still, "Traitor" is one of the rare films to-date to swing the focus of the Iraq conflict away from the point-of-view of Iwo Jima-swooned Marines who are left with the unenviable daily task of facing uncertain hostilities on the front line where friend and foe is skewed by a perpetually hazy shadow of doubt. So too is the premise and plot of "Traitor" in which Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Crash) plays the spiritually-grounded Muslim Samir Horn, caught in the mar of terrorism and irresolute allegiance.

The film is sophisticatedly unraveled as Cheadle is introduced as an arms peddler caught in the midst of an international sting headed by FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce). After refusing to make a deal with Clayton and his abusive partner Max Archer (Neil McDonough), Samir ends up in a prison in Yemen where his honor as a proper practitioner of Islam endears him to would-be revolutionary Omar (Said Taghmaoui), who acted as intermediary in a proposed sale of explosives before they were raided by Clayton' forces. Previously accusing Samir of selling his family out in the thwarted deal, the two form an alliance which results in a breakout and joining of forces in a massive terrorist plot.

Samir is revealed to have been a former U.S. Special Operations officer with a specialty in explosives, which makes him a prime suspect in Roy Clayton's continued pursuit of the terrorists. They steal headline after headline with their worldwide suicide bombings, gory events taken straight out of the everyday media, and Samir is believed to be one of their chief masterminds.

What's especially savvy about "Traitor" is how well director Jeffrey Nachmanoff tweaks and tapers his story (co-written with Steve Martin) to lead you to believe Samir has gone over the edge and submitted himself not only to the will of Allah, but the governing leader of the terrorists, Fareed Mansour (Alyy Khan). As Samir helps train young recruits in the cause, he sees how deeply fanatical the assassins are by way of their disposal of a teenaged soldier once he inadvertently compromises the group's plans.

As Clayton and his team continue to peg Samir as public enemy of the state, Samir sets up a massive-scale bombing at an American consulate in France, which alarms Clayton and entreats him as a champion to Mansour's world-scale war. Upon learning there were eight casualties in the bombing, we see a visibly shaken Samir ruing his crime to Allah. At this point that plot thickens as we've learned Samir is working covertly with another FBI agent (Jeff Daniels) simply known as "Carter." Carter had assured Samir no people were supposed to be in the building when the bomb went off, which prompts Samir to question his motives and moreover, who the real good guys and bad guys are in his overwhelming internal warfare

Samir fears his deep cover has comprised his spirituality, which leads to a nifty cat-and-mouse finale between him, Clayton and Mansour's army. Forced to choose sides in light of a major bombing catastrophe planned between Mansour, Omar and Samir, the ending wields a mite of a surprise, and the results are devastating for Samir's path towards righteousness.

"Traitor" shows humane sympathy for the plight of the Middle East as much as it casts the light appropriately upon its villains. Figuring out some of the less-obvious villains is part of "Traitor's" strength, as it leads us towards ultimate redemption under a veil of beguilement. No matter which way Samir Horn is going to decide his life's path, the underlying statement to the film is he is a man of God first, traitor or not…