Reluctant as I might be to admit it considering our current standing in the world, I am an American. And like almost every other American, I like movies. And—also like just almost every other American—I like movies where people run a lot, and say things that are Important and Dramatic, and if there's a bass-filled soundtrack to boot, I'm usually a pretty happy camper. Traitor has all of those things, but instead of being content with what it is—a mindless thriller—it thinks it's a moving statement about current affairs. But Traitor is written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (the guy who wrote The Day After Tomorrow), and it has a co-writer credit belonging to Steve Martin (yeah, that Steve Martin). Suffice to say that Traitor isn't as good as it thinks it is, and The Jerk doesn't even show up once.
Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn, an undercover American trying to get close to some terrorists. (You can tell they're terrorists thanks to the generic "exotic Middle Eastern" music cues, which I suspect have been directly lifted from Team America: World Police.) Guy Pearce plays Roy Clayton, a CIA agent who, along with his good ol' boy drawl, is trying to track Samir down. Meanwhile, the threat of another terrorist attack on American soil looms, and Samir is forced to question his multiple allegiances.
Cheadle and Pearce are fine here, but they perform in spite of the script rather than because of it: Unless you're doing so with a deft touch of intelligence and verve, using the potent theme of terrorism in cinema usually just feels like a cheap hook, a too-easy way to tap into audience fears. Suffice to say that Traitor has neither intelligence nor verve. What it does have are a couple of so-so action-y sequences and some goofy lines that tell us exactly what the film's trying to say: That religion is complex ("Seems every religion has more than one face," drawls Pearce), that the truth is complicated ("The truth is... it's complicated," says Cheadle), and that sometimes in a war, you need to do what it takes to win ("This is a war! You do what it takes to win!" barks a cameoing Jeff Daniels).
Traitor's plot also lets us in on the hand-wringing knowledge that sleeper cell terrorists are, right this very second, mowing lawns in our suburbs, studying on our college campuses, serving iced mochas at our neighborhood coffee shops, and waiting to strike. Thank god, then, that we have string and percussion sections to tell us when danger is near, and that our moral lessons are slowly, clearly spelled out for us, and that likeable, believable men like Guy Pearce and Don Cheadle are vigilantly watching our backs.