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Don Cheadle, Traitor

Overture Films

Review in a Hurry: The excellent Don Cheadle plays a devout, Sudan-born Muslim who joins a terrorist network and plots attacks in the U.S. Part drama, part spy thriller, Traitor takes aim at too many targets but hits more often than misses.

The Bigger Picture: You might want to adjust your expectations. Though technically a summer release, this espionage flick is no over-the-top, blow-'em-up blockbuster. And though conceived in part by Steve Martin (yep, the wild and crazy guy), this is no knee-slapping yukfest, either. Instead, Traitor is a smarter, subtler exercise, featuring a morally complex central character and a laundry list of ethical questions.

A former U.S. Special Operations officer, Samir Horn (Cheadle), gets thrown into a Yemen prison after selling bombs to Islamic terrorists. He's roughed up by FBI agents—straight-arrow Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and wild-card Max Archer (Neal McDonough)—but refuses to talk, even in exchange for leniency.

Samir eventually bonds with fellow inmate Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), and after busting out of the joint, he joins Omar's terrorist network. An explosives expert, Samir helps to orchestrate several bombings, including simultaneous attacks on U.S. buses.

Roy and Max fill up their passports in pursuit of Samir, across Europe, Africa, Canada and more. In addition to frequent-flyer miles, the agents also rack up doubts about who this Samir guy really is. We never quite know, either. The character as written has a number of blanks, though Cheadle—a graceful, nuanced actor and a great fit with these tortured-soul roles—does a fine job of filling them in.

He gets strong support from Taghmaoui, whose gripping performance provides insight into how religious fervor can become distorted and exploited. But other supporting characters remain mere pawns in this global chess game. The pic also raises numerous issues—regarding politics, faith, war, allegiance, etc.—that it can't begin to fully explore. Still, you gotta admire the timely Traitor for trying.

The 180—a Second Opinion: All the handheld camerawork might induce headaches or nausea. And some interior scenes are so thick with atmospheric smoke you're liable to choke in sympathy with the actors.