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Life Imitates Art in Political Thriller 'Traitor'


Don Cheadle stars as an American undercover agent trying to infiltrate a terrorist cell in a tense political thriller that echoes real-life international headlines. Alan Silverman has this look at Traitor.

Samir Horn - a Sudanese-born American citizen - is right up on what has to be considered the front lines in the war on terror.

When he is linked to a car bomb attack against an American embassy building, he becomes a target of an F.B.I. counter-terror task force.

The F.B.I. investigators do not know that Samir is deep undercover in a C.I.A.-sponsored mission. Over chess matches with the charismatic militant leader whose confidence he has gained, Samir is trying to prevent a planned series of suicide bomb attacks in the United States.

"The character was wrestling, personally, with a lot of things the country and the world are wrestling with," Cheadle explains. "So I thought it was interesting to have a character who sort of encapsulates a lot of these questions and debate within his own person."

Don Cheadle stars as Samir and also is producer of Traitor. He acknowledges it deals with timely and important topics, but the Oscar-nominated actor says that was not his reason for making the film.

"It's an action thriller ...a kind of espionage thriller ...that has its backdrop be in a world that is relevant to what is happening today," says Cheadle. "The emotional thrust of it was always staying with this character, going on his journey and thinking 'if I was in this person's shoes how would I do this and what would I do? Would I sacrifice this? Would I throw this away? What costs are too high for me? And what collateral damage can I live with?' "

Australian-born Guy Pearce co-stars as the F.B.I. counter-terrorism agent in a delicate cat-and-mouse game with Cheadle's character.

"There was just something about this film ...about this script that was trying to hold a mirror up and show that, really, we are all people," says Pearce. "Our faith and our belief is something that is relevant to us individually, but essentially, on a broad scale, is no different from each other. Not something you would normally see in a studio film."

Screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff makes his directing debut with Traitor and says he tried to avoid the sort of stereotypes and 'movie shorthand' that are often used in Hollywood films.

"I think it is compelling when you see the enemies, if you will, as real people instead of as cut-outs and cartoonish characters ...not just because I think it's ethically and socially responsible to portray them as real people," Nachmanoff explains. "I just think it makes a better narrative. It makes for a more complex and interesting set of villains when you treat them as real people."

The international cast of Traitor includes American Jeff Daniels as Samir's 'handler;' French-Moroccan actor Said Taghmaoui plays the terrorist mastermind and British TV and screen actress Archie Panjabi is the lover whom the undercover agent is forced to deceive.