Directed by: Jeffrey Nachmanoff | 114 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Saïd Taghmaoui, Neal McDonough, Alyy Khan, Archie Panjabi, Raad Rawi, Hassam Ghancy, Mozhan Marnò, Adeel Akhtar, Jeff Daniels, Lorena Gale, Scali Delpeyrat, Mehdi Ortelsberg, Aizoun Abdelkader, Mohamed Choubi, Farid Regragui, Habib Hamdane, Youness Sardi, Joseph Beddelem, Alaa Moumouzoune, Tom Barnett, Simon Reynolds, Matt Gordon, Patrick Rodney Barnes, Shahla Kareen
In the current social climate in which political parties are increasingly forced to make firm and oversimplified statements about ‘certain population groups’ – i.e. Muslims and / or Moroccans – a balanced image in films of complicated, difficult to interpret issues such as (Islamic) fundamentalism very welcome. This is because things that appear clear and black and white rarely are. ‘Traitor’ is a psychological thriller that approaches current terrorism issues in a mature and intelligent manner, while also complying with the laws of Hollywood action film. The combination of these elements does cause a slight dilution of both aspects,
Especially the first half of ‘Traitor’, when Horn’s loyalty is slowly shifting towards the side of the Islamic fundamentalists in the film, is extremely strong. Because the viewer identifies with Horn, portrayed by Cheadle as human and intelligent, he is also forced to think actively and seriously about the point of view of the fundamentalists. No, it cannot be justified that suicides kill innocent people in their actions, but is it indeed not true that many innocent Muslims have been killed for decades by American, or Western, actions, as a character in the film states? And weren’t the Americans once terrorists for the British too? And when it appears that the American government is also willing to make innocent victims for the “higher” purpose,
Samir’s apparent attraction to the “cause” of the terrorists forces the viewer to consider these kinds of arguments. Even when the viewpoint changes to that of FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce), the terrorists are viewed in a balanced way. Very good in itself, but it sometimes feels a bit too balanced or politically correct. The film has many comments that put things into perspective, not all of which seem to be equally to the point. When Islam is condemned, Clayton argues, for example, that every religion has its excesses. In itself a good point, but to cite the Ku Klux Klan as an argument now seems somewhat blunt.
Yet it is nice to see that it is possible that the great (moral) hero of an American film is a devoted Muslim. Horn shows that the great problem of terrorism does not lie in the Quran, but in its incorrect interpretation and hijacking by the people who want evil. The question is raised in the film whether the terrorists who fight in the name of the Koran or Islam are as strongly religious as they pretend to be. Characteristic is the scene in which Samir has a meeting on a terrace with a few important links in a terrorist cell, and is surprised when it turns out that they are drinking champagne (and admit to eating pork as well). They do this under the guise of “haqqiya”, a rule that states that a Muslim may pretend to be the enemy to deceive him, but this is just an excuse, since the “enemy” is nowhere to be seen on the terrace. Samir says he believes in Allah and the Quran, and gets a response that believing is good, but he must know how to follow orders. Samir tries to get some (potential) terrorists he comes into contact with to think very carefully about true Islam and the true belief in it and what it should consist of. Is this consistent with the way the terrorists use it? It is difficult to bring about an intellectual change in this, but it is on the basis of dialogue and insights that this will have to happen. After all, violence only leads to more violence, as Spielberg’s ‘Munich’ showed before. It is with this aspect, call it the revaluation of, or the open view towards Islam and with which the film scores points and offers an intelligent counterbalance to Wilders and his followers, who feed fear with polarizing, one-sided expressions and threaten to stigmatize entire population groups and religions. And Don Cheadle is the perfect actor to give shape to the by no means infallible, but very intelligent and honest character that stimulates this open mind.