Dir: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Star: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Said Taghmaoui, Jeff Daniels

This took six years to get through development hell and reach the screen, and the intervening time has made the subject matter perhaps over-familiar, through series like Sleeper Cell and 24, as well as other movies covering terrorism and its investigation. That said, this remains a very solid effort, anchored by the performance of Cheadle as Samir Horn, a US citizen and Muslim swept up in a Yemen terrorist investigation. He has been involved with militant groups since fighting in Afghan against the Soviets, and is now deeply committed to the fundamentalist cause - his training and background make him a major threat to US security, and FBI special agent Roy Clayton (Pearce) is hot on his trail. There's added urgency, as the 'chatter' suggests a major terrorist action is in preparation on American soil, especially after Horn's involvement in blowing up the American consulate in Nice. However, is everything quite what it seems? Or is Horn really working deep undercover for the good guys?

While the audience will likely be one step ahead of the script for most of the journey, it does manage one doozy of a twist at the end that is great. It probably would have a hard time standing up to logical scrutiny, but is just so apt and just, that the writer can only be forgiven. Cheadle is also excellent: it's the first time I've seen him in anything significant, and he manages to put over all the depth present in a complex character. Horn has religion, patriotism and his own personal history [the film opens with the death of his father in a car-bomb explosion], all pulling him in multiple different directions. He wants to do 'the right thing', but this is a world where that isn't always obvious: how many is it 'ok' to kill in order to fulfill an honourable purpose? One? Ten? A hundred? Things are a lot less black-and-white than you might expect from watching Fox News, and the film is stronger as a result for its honesty in admitting this.

[July 2009]

Arms and the man
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