Summer’s Hottest Political Thriller…From Steve Martin?

By Kate Arcieri

The last taut political thriller of the summer hits theaters this week, starring Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle and offering viewers a trip around the globe on the heels of FBI operatives, underground terrorists and international spies. "Traitor" is an engrossing and hyper-entertaining tale—but perhaps the most surprising part is where it came from: the brain of comic genius Steve Martin.

The film’s anything but funny, but then Martin’s shown us before, with his novella "Shopgirl" and the movie by the same name, that there’s emotional depth behind the Wild and Crazy Guy. While filming the hit comedy "Bringing Down The House" with Queen Latifah, Martin came up with the idea for "Traitor," and shared it with "Bringing Down The House" producer David Hoberman. He was intrigued, and before long Martin’s idea was rocketing its way toward becoming a screenplay, courtesy of writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff.

"Traitor" centers on FBI agent Roy Clayton, played by Guy Pearce, who is leading the investigation into an international terrorism ring thought to be controlled by ex-U.S.-military operative Samir Horn—played by Cheadle. Horn’s alliances are in question, even for the viewer, as the devout Muslim bounces from Yemen to Nice, London to Marseilles, each visit timed painfully close to a terrorist act. Clayton, and the audience, rush to unravel Horn’s web of connections, including his involvement with a CIA operative played by Jeff Daniels.

While avoiding the pat stereotypes and predictable devices of most movies in the Islamic-terrorism genre, "Traitor" manages to be sensitive and thought provoking without losing its main draw as a rollicking, nail-biting ride. Cheadle is, of course, impressive as a conflicted soul torn between loyalties. For those who love a good thriller, you’ve got one more trip to take before summer’s end.

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