Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Overture films goes for the long ball with "Traitor"

As I noted with “Transsiberian” the new vogue for independent films is big stars, spectacular locations, and either a clever story or a politically important story. “Traitor”, directed by Canadian Jeffrey Nachmanoff based on a story by Steve Martin (that tells you something – remember his performance in “The Spanish Prisoner”), is the largest film yet from Overture Films, the new indie studio with connections to Starz, Anchor Bay, and Paramount Vantage.

Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) this time plays a mobile jihadist, enraged by a boyhood incident in Sudan, who, as the story progresses, may or may not be a double agent. In fact, he may be making up his own mind the whole time. The story moves from Yemen to Marseilles, to London, Toronto, Chicago, and Washington DC. The Middle Eastern part was apparently filmed in Morocco, but most of the rest of the scenes do seem to have been photographed on location and look very real. We see (in full 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Washington DC along the Potomac, from the view of Arlington Cemetery, and pan over to Rosslyn, even picking out the old Newseum. I don’t know whether the FBI really has a separate office in Rosslyn (who does?) but visually the idea is compelling.

The film is essentially a hunt between the FBI (/ CIA?) agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce, from Memento) and Samir Horn (Cheadle). The story moves through various prison breaks, plots and sleeper cells, and in a sense the globetrotting seems improbable; this is probably not how the 9/11 plot formed. The premise of the new “threat” is frightening enough: simultaneity. And if Samir is a double agent, he finds a plot solution to almost nullify the damage.

The style of filmmaking seems a bit too “Hollywoodish” in style (or perhaps like a Canadian thriller, as the credits bear the DGC trademark) – closer to Paramount proper or Dreamworks than a relative of “Paramount Vantage.” The global movement is indeed breathtaking, but I would have preferred a little more concentration in the acting and writing, something more like “Babel”, “The Edge of Heaven,” perhaps the Pakistani film “In the Name of God”, or even “Syriana.” There is one brief scene that echoes some TV films about Flight 93 and 9/11: body shaving rituals that apparently (at least according to Internet stories) are practiced before suicide attacks.

The script does have some one-liners about philosophy, and there are shades of guilt and bad karma. At one point, Samir (I think) says, no civilian is innocent for what his government does. (We hear that a lot from radical Islam, but we sometimes heard that from the extreme Left in the 60s and 70s.) There are claimed quote from the Koran, that he who takes a life takes all of humanity, and he who saves a life saves all of humanity. There are plenty of calls of “Akbar Allah,” and a couple of lines about absolute obedience to Allah as the only source of what is right and wrong.

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