A timely story, some welcome complexity, and a compelling performance elevate this story of terrorism above the usual bang-bang.
Don Cheadle plays Samir, a person of interest being tracked by the authorities for his possible involvement in terrorist activities. He witnessed his father’s death from terrorism in Sudan when he was a child. Later he became a US Special Forces soldier trained in munitions. He is a devout Muslim. Whose side is he on now? We follow Samir as he is imprisoned for terrorism in the Mid-East. At first, Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) the Muslim leader of the toughest gang in the prison, sees him as a challenger because he does not immediately ask for protection. But he grows to respect and then feel friendship for Samir and helps him to escape. Together, with the help of a wealthy supporter, they plan an audacious attack on the United States.
Meanwhile, American agents led by Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) are trying to find Samir. The characters constantly criss-cross the globe and seem to move just as easily across geographic borders as they do across legal, cultural, and moral lines. As the FBI tries to figure out whether Samir is a good guy or a bad guy, we must make the same calculation about them.
The story for this film was created by comedian/actor Steve Martin along with director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who wrote the screenplay. It has a welcome murkiness that shows more insight and respect for the complexities of global affairs than the usual cliches and stereotypes. If that seems at first less satisfying it is because it is more demanding. The audience can’t hold on to superficial signifiers and has to be willing to shift its own allegiances throughout the story. If that makes the ending less immediately satisfying, it makes it more thoughtful, more resonant. And through it all, Cheadle’s courageous and focused portrayal of a devout man who is trying to find a way to reconcile his beliefs with his experiences shows his sincere loyalty to his story, his character, his audience, and his own search for truth.
Parents should know that the film includes frequent violence including terrorist acts, bombs, guns, suicides, prison fighting, some graphic images, and brief strong language. Characters smoke and drink.
Family discussion: Who is the traitor? Do you agree with Samir’s decision on the suicide bombers? With his decision at the end of the movie?
If you like this, try: “Syriana” (rated R), “The War Within,” “Paradise Now”