Some genres blend more easily than others.
The action-comedy is one example. Take an action movie and throw in two comedic actors or a silly premise. This summer we saw the success of that in different fashions with both "Hancock" and "Pineapple Express."
The action-horror is a more recent hybrid that can be successful. The "Resident Evil" and "Blade" series are examples in which such horror elements as zombies and vampires are plugged into an action setting.
What's a bit more difficult to do well is the action-drama, a genre more often referred to as the thriller. A thriller could generally be described as action-lite and drama-lite. The result is a film that usually succeeds in neither genre's objectives.
Warning: It's impossible to discuss "Traitor" without giving away some key plot elements that could generally be regarded as spoilers. Sorry, it's just the nature of the movie. Reading virtually any reviews of the film will detract from the first watching.
"Traitor" stars Don Cheadle as Samir Horn, a former army explosives expert and devout Muslim who has become involved with a terrorist cell. While Horn is negotiating an arms deal with terrorist leader Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) the two are captured and thrown into prison in Yemen. While jailed the two bond over chess, their faith, and their shared intellectualism. When the time comes to escape Omar takes Samir with him.
The two then begin the process of radicalizing young Muslims in Paris and planning bombings. They then move on to the United States where they begin orchestrating a plot to simultaneously explode suicide bombs on 50 buses across the American heartland. The two are pursued by thoughtful FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce.)
Oh, and if one was unable to guess, Horn is actually a double agent working for the US government under the supervision of a lone intelligence official played by Jeff Daniels. Horn struggles with the emotional costs and personal dangers of his mission and the ethical dilemmas it poses.
The film never really decides which it's more interested in doing, providing an action experience or a compelling drama. "Traitor" has the potential for both. The primary problem with the dramatic element, though, is that the filmmakers decided that the method they were going to use to generate tension within the audience was to keep them in suspense about whether or not Horn really was a terrorist. So what they do for the first third or so of the film is deny us Horn's perspective. For much of the film he's just a blank mystery. We don't know what's motivating him or who he really is.
On the one hand this approach is interesting but really it's a mystery too easily solved. Virtually everyone is going to know that Cheadle is actually a good guy going in so why not just be up front with it from the very beginning? Don't drag us along on an unbelievable charade.
Cheadle isn't the only character who isn't fully cooked. Virtually all of the enemies and supporting characters are not adequately developed either. The film has the opportunity to really dig into what drives the Muslim believer to become the Terrorist killer but it kind of sidesteps this question. Further, the motivations behind Roy, the Guy Pearce character, are just suggested. The film just feels like there is probably a whole lot of background scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. The film or perhaps the script was probably much longer and the filmmakers made the error of chopping it down too much in favor of a faster paced film.
As an action movie the film isn't much of a success either. No action set-piece really stands out as particularly memorable.
Performances from reliable actors such as Cheadle, Pearce, and Daniels are made forgettable by a script that only gives them so much room to create their characters. "Traitor" is basically a spy movie for the post-9/11 world. Whereas the previous generation's spy movies reflected the Cold War, today's depict the War on Terror. And that's fine. There are plenty of issues to explore and action scenes to film. Unfortunately "Traitor" isn't the movie to do justice to the potential today's world provides.