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‘Traitors’ Movie Review – is a precisely paced, carefully crafted debut that explodes with energy and confidence

‘Traitors’ Movie Review – is a precisely paced, carefully crafted debut that explodes with energy and confidence



Written and directed by Sean Gullette

Morocco, 2013

An SUV drives across the Moroccan border, packed with drugs hidden from plain view. Two girls, Malika (Chimae Ben Acha) and Amal (Soufia Issami), smuggle the drugs across terrorist lines with little to lose. Malika, the newest recruit, is nervous but shows no sign of worry with her deadpan looks. Amal, although experienced in the trafficking game, has a poor poker face. With every passing mile, Amal looks at Malika with a profound sense of caution. Malika, on the other hand, approaches each mile with a sharp sense of focus. She just wants to finish the job and get back to her normal life. Whether she can get back to her life, and avoid the backlash of her boss Samir (Mourade Zeguendi), is another question. But it’s a question she’s willing to fight for. After a few tension-filled moments, Amal professes a line passed down from her mother, “If you are a nail, endure the knocking.” Malika, familiar with the Moroccan proverb, corrects her remark by finishing the rest of the line, “If you are a hammer, strike.”

In a short scene, Gullette neatly draws parallels between the protagonist and her supporting characters. The rest of Traitors’ 84-minute runtime doesn’t fall short of being any less masterful. Traitors is a precisely paced, carefully crafted thriller that re-examines the way we look at fear. According to the film, we can either fight or run, hammer or get nailed. For Malika, running is not an option.

Set in the backdrop of the Arabic slums of Tangier, Malika finds escape and solace in the anarchy of punk rock music. Wanting nothing more but to get out of her hometown, Malika tries to get her band, Traitors, into a recording studio and on tour. After a producer expresses interest, the only thing she needs is money to record a demo. With no job and her family in financial burden, she haphazardly finds herself taking on a “driving” job from a hashish distributor. Forced to put her life on the line, Malika takes matters into her own hands, the way she intends it to play out.

traitorsAcha’s take on Malika is best described as authentic and consistent. Malika is a creature of principle, sticking to her punk rock roots at all costs. Whether in an office building or in her boss’s garage, her respect for authority stops short. She lives life on her own terms, which discretely maps out the course of events from the beginning to the end of the film. Acha’s wooden, Michelle Rodriguez-like mannerisms provide a level of confidences that is unnerving for a fish-out-of-water story, yet emotes deep expression with a simple glare. Epitomizing the ideal female lead, Acha’s Malika is refreshing and shining example of strength that spans across gender roles.

Reminiscent of Gerardo Naranjo’s 2011 crime drama Miss Bala, both films deal with a female lead that have a goal to leave their poor life for a dream. One wants to be a beauty pageant winner, the other a rock star. With their dreams a little too our of reach, both resort to crime to get what they want. Yet where Miss Bala succumbs to the temptations in front of her, Traitors has its female lead stick to her guns and march to beat of her own drum, as if Miss Bala makes a 180-degree turn to get what she wants. Both are very poignant films on the message of principle, but Traitors proves to be a confident example of how saying no is far better for the conscience.

Among perfect pacing, thrilling suspense, and a tight script, Traitors is a good-looking film due to Gullette’s collaboration with cinematographer Niko Tavernise. After making films with Darren Aronofsky at Harvard, Gullette went on to play and share story credit on Aronofsky’s debut feature Pi. Through Aronofsky, Gullette went on to develop a relation with Tavernise, who went on to work on The Wrestler, Black Swan, The Messenger, Moonrise Kingdom and Noah. Through Tavernise’s distinct artistic vision, the film is both gritty and stylized, all wrapped in a realistically polished bow.

All in all, Traitors is the complete package. Filled with great direction, straight-laced acting, and a fatless structure from script to screen, Traitors is bound to gain more popularity as it travels through the festival circuits.

Traitors will be screening at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, April 20th until Saturday April 26th. For more information, please go to the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival’s website.

— Christopher Clemente