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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this adult thriller revolves around lofty ideas and mature themes (including faith and terrorism) that may not interest kids, or even teens. The violence -- of which there's a fair amount, including an embassy bombing and gunfire that leads to bloodshed -- and discussions about terrorism might be upsetting to younger viewers. There's also some swearing, smoking, and drinking. All of that said, the main character seems like a man who struggles as much as he can to be true to his faith, and watching him navigate this quagmire is actually quite thought-provoking.
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What's the story?
Does a pious man have a place in the war against terror? That's the essential question behind the tense drama TRAITOR. Don Cheadle stars as Samir Horn, a devout Muslim-American with a military past who finagles his way into the inner sanctum of a European terrorist cell. Thrown in a Yemeni prison for an arms deal gone awry, Horn befriends a prisoner who not only helps him escape but proceeds to recruit him for a dangerous, destructive mission. But Horn isn't what he seems. Not even an FBI agent (Guy Pearce) in hot pursuit knows who he really is -- or just how or why he came to be in the enemy's inner circle in the first place.
Is it any good?
Taut and intriguing -- for the most part, anyway -- Traitor succeeds on a basic level thanks to Cheadle's acting prowess. Rather than playing Horn as a typical action-hero prototype, he creates a character so complicated and conflicted that the movie nearly transcends its flaws. Nearly. But it does have flaws. For starters, it skates over too many details -- how Horn metamorphosed from government soldier to arms trader, how his tangled web got its start. And while it certainly attempts to present a more full-bodied representation of extremists and extremism, the movie relies a little too much on shorthand, even though it willingly takes on a complex subject.
If not for the great acting ensemble, the enterprise would come across as paint-by-numbers. As it is, for a thriller, it feels slack and predictable in places -- as in Horn's encounters with a prison bully and how his response buys him the respect of others, for example. And, at times, it's self-consciously ponderous. But there's no denying the film's timeliness and its laudable efforts at injecting humanity into a hot-button debate. Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who also co-wrote the script, doesn't just rely on dogma and polemics, and for that he deserves some kudos.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie deals with both faith and terrorism. Can the two co-exist? What messages does the movie send about that relationship? Families can also discuss Samir's decision to join a group whose activities might run counter to his religious beliefs. Why does he take it on? How is he affected by the experience? Is this movie different from other political thrillers? If so, how?
- In theaters: August 27, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: December 16, 2008
- Cast: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels
- Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
- Studio: Overture Films
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense violent sequences, thematic material and brief language.
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