When was the last time a big Hollywood movie treated a sincerely religious character with dignity, much less made him the focus of the film?
That's one of the attractions of "Traitor," a thought-provoking thriller that brings a surprisingly open mind to the war on terror and provides Don Cheadle with yet another memorable characterization.
Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff's sophomore feature co-written with Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) follows American Muslim Samir Horn (Cheadle) on a journey into the heart of terrorism. We first encounter Samir in Yemen where he tries to sell a truckload of explosives to a bunch of jihadists. His timing is poor; he's at their safe house when it's raided.
Now a prisoner, Samir is sent to a ghastly prison where he's mistrusted by both the common thugs who run the place and by the terrorists. But Samir's faith is so strong, so perfectly expressed in acts of compassion and dignity, that even the hard-core al-Qaida types are impressed.
The film's carefully measured, even positive look at Islam is a far cry from the usual assortment of swarthy bad guys who so often populate our entertainments.
Once again Cheadle immerses himself in a character. A man of fierce conscience, his Samir does bad things for what he sees as a greater good and the guilt he feels is so intense he wonders about his choices.
What lingers after the film ends is the troubling questions it raises. Not many movies can make that claim.