Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Traitor. Feature film. (2008, 114 mins) IMDB
hen I saw Don Cheadle starred in this film, I figured it would be a good film to watch. At least it won't be bad, but I was wrong. Even stars of quality make duds.
So why is it a dud? In short, this movie is entirely predictable. Nothing comes as a surprise. Further, the locations and characters etc. are all predictable. We've seen it before. There's nothing new in this film. Nothing. And because there is nothing new, it's boring. A bad movie. It's derivative. It's a TV movie masquerading as a feature film.
We meet a young boy in Sudan. He's saying his prayers (Islamic style) and playing chess. We learn two things. Faith and intelligence. And in a flash, a car explodes in the streets below this second story window. Why? I have no idea. It's never explained. The boy runs out onto the balcony to see what happened. Cut and advance 18 years later. Our young boy has grown up and is in Yemen.
Because it's Sudan and Yemen and Islam, we know it's about terrorism and the US battle against it. It didn't take me long to realize why he was in Yemen. Cheadle is playing a mole, an undercover Muslim if you will for the US government. It's the only thing that made sense. It was confirmed when the house he is visiting is raided by Yemen police along with some FBI types. There's a major shootout where the police just shoot and shoot without any regard for who is in the house. Give me a break. That's one reason I didn't like this film.
Anyway, Cheadle doesn't die in this bloodbath, but instead is captured, taken to the police HQ and interrogated. Two FBI agents come in to interrogate him and rough him up because he won't talk. When I saw this scene I knew he was a mole and I had to laugh at it. There is a certain arrogance about these FBI agents in a foreign country that I find repulsive. It was all done for effect to show to the locals, our hero wasn't an American trying to sneak into a terrorist operation, but a devout Muslim who hated Americans.
Remember, the US intelligence on the ground in Muslim countries is weak. They would love to have people infiltrate organizations in Yemen and Egypt and other places to gather intelligence but they don't have people who are, one, believable and, two, they can trust. It's up to Hollywood and novelist to creates stories where that's possible.
Back to the story. We've met our hero. He's been dancing with Muslim terrorists in the Middle East, caught by local police and ends up in the jail from hell. He can't stay in jail, because there wouldn't be a story. We see some staged gang fighting. Learn he can handle himself in a fist fight, a knife fight, and he befriends a leader in the terrorist group. A friendship required for the second act. And that comes with yes a prison break. The leader, our hero and some no-name thugs make a break and escape to France. Act I is over. We're onto Act II.
Here's where the plotting of the bombing happens. Our hero is inside the group. He's trusted. He's a former US military guy (yet another clue he's working for the US) with knowledge of bomb making. There's a plot for a suicide bombing in France, but it fails until Cheadle takes over and uses an RF device to detonate it instead of a suicide bomber. It all seems real, but laughable. Would someone working with the US government really build bombs for terrorists? Bombs that work. That kill people. I don't think so. Not even as part of an undercover operation.
The laughs continue. We move to North America where a 9/11 style attack is planned with buses instead of planes and again our hero has a trunk full of Semtex to deliver in ready-to-use bombs for the suicide bombers. He actually made these bombs to deliver to known enemies of the US in the US. How stupid can you get?!?
By the midpoint, we learn what we all ready know. He's working under the guidance of some government type but we don't know what agency. What's critical and lunatic is that the Jeff Daniels character is the only one who knows that Cheadle is on one team and not the other. It seems the FBI who are chasing him think he's a killer with bigger plans and why not, he blew up the US Consulate in Nice. It stretches credibility and is fabricated entirely for plot purposes.
Why? Because in a scene late in Act II, our hero has a rendezvous with his handler on the US side and on his terrorist group side. The clash results in his only know saviour ending up dead. That's the low point for our hero. It's the end of Act II. It's that kind of moment where the hero seems screwed because the FBI thinks he's the new OBL and we know it's not true. But of course, he can't be killed or end up in jail. He's the hero. So how does he save the day? By ignoring logic.
First, there's a simple email he sends to the FBI chasing him to say: you've got a mole and here's where the bad guys will be. The agent immediately believes him. No questions asked. Yes, he's a good guy now.
Second, during the second act, Cheadle drove from LA to all sorts of points throughout the US to deliver the bombs to 30 suicide agents. On the day of the bombings, just like 9/11, the various bombers would get on a bus and blow up 30 buses. It doesn't happen that way. All the bombers are on the same bus so the only people they kill, presumably, are other bombers. How is that possible? How do bombers in LA or Seattle or St. Louis or Chicago end up on the same bus at the same time? It makes no sense. None.
The director/writer wants to think of this movie as an action flick. It isn't. Not in the same league as the Bond films, Die Hard, Jason Bourne. It's a night day comparison. TV v. feature film.
Want proof? A big sequence in the film is the bombing of the US consulate in Nice. Our hero builds the remote controlled bombs, enters the buildings, plants the devices, exits, walks away and pushes the trigger. We never see the explosion. Instead we see him turn a corner and a storm of dust follows--an indication there was an explosion. Later we see the damaged building but it's clear it's faked ruins. There never was an explosion. They didn't do it because they couldn't afford to do it.
Posted 2009/01/28 at 04h12ET in Movie Commentary.