When watching Traitor, the viewer is overcome by the weirdest urge: You want to will the movie to become better than it really is. The story, conceived by Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin)—taking a "cop undercover in the mob" movie and shifting it to the FBI and Al Qaeda—is so obvious that it's brilliant, and it's almost impossible to fault a movie that features Don "I-even-turned-in-a-gripping-performance-in-motherfucking–Reign Over Me" Cheadle so prominently. But the fact is that Traitor is just not a good movie, and all the Cheadle in the world can't save it.
The problem lies mostly in the direction: There are a few surprises, but for the most part the film is choked with bad CSI-style cuts and a supporting cast that can't do anything more than pose. Guy Pearce turns in his worst acting job ever, with a lame Southern accent that should've been aborted in the rehearsal stage. Neal McDonough brings nothing more than his freaky blue eyes and the same tired old growl that he's trotted out on a million TV shows.
The only actor who keeps pace with Cheadle's mournful elegance is Saïd Taghmaoui. In a time when most actors of Arab descent are cashing supporting-actor checks by phoning in roles as either snarling monsters or tortured martyrs, Taghmaoui's Omar is an America-hating terrorist who is actually sympathetic. Cheadle and Taghmaoui make you wish Traitor was a better movie, but the fact is—despite occasional flashes of lovely, globe-trotting cinematography—it's strictly TV-movie fare. FBI agents say pithy things like, "I must've forgotten my Bill of Rights at home" as they punch terrorists in the gut, and the terrorists pontificate about how "you must be willing to sacrifice some of your pawns to win the game." There's more realistic dialogue and characterization in your standard episode of 24.