Spoiler sports

Traitor gives away too much too soon

Starring Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough. Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Thirty years after watching his father die from a car bomb, a Sudanese man drives through the city streets of Yemen to a militia compound. He has explosives to sell, and an old friend there who wants to buy, but the transaction gets interrupted by a raid from the Yemenite army.

Thus begins Traitor, two hours of international intrigue that’s as contemporary as it comes … betrayed by plot points straight out of classic thrillers. In these establishing scenes, and others that follow, writer/director Jeffrey Nachmanoff tips his hand, so developments that might have surprised an entire audience only shock the uninitiated.

That’s too bad, because otherwise the film is absorbing.

Traitor shuttles between a terror cell and the government agencies tracking it. At the pivot point is the explosives dealer, Samir (Don Cheadle), who may be more than meets the eye for both sides. In prison with others caught up with the raid, he’s called “traitor” by the terror captain Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), who later becomes his ally. Meanwhile, the FBI agents on his tail (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) deem Samir a traitor to the U.S., where he spent his teen years and got his military training.

This much is certain: Samir is a Muslim—it’s redundant to say devout Muslim because, his mother points out to Agent Clayton, “there’s no sliding scale.” What’s uncertain (mostly) is who he’s really double-crossing.

Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) is fantastic as always, conveying so much internalized emotion without breaking Samir’s poker face. Pearce (Memento) and McDonough (Flags of Our Fathers) shine, too, as does the rest of this cast of mostly unknowns and Jeff Daniels. Pacing, cinematography, dialogue—all excellent.

Traitor is definitely worth seeing; just forgive it for its spoiler sins.