Tribeca: Traitors (2014)
The new film from Morocco, Traitors, can best be described as a thrill ride for people who complain about the characters (or lack of interesting characters) in action movies. Traitors is full of rich, vibrant characters who would be just as interesting to watch if they never got out of the car. And this trickles down from the top, with lead actresses Chaimae Ben Ache and Soufia Issami, to the smallest characters. It just so happens that when the film does become a thriller, we have such a strong connection to the characters, we care about every single thing they do, rooting for the good girls to take their lives back.
The film focuses on punk singer, part-time mechanic Malika (newcomer Acha), who is considered the family black sheep for wearing jeans and sneakers, cutting her hair short, and wanting to leave home before getting married. She has no interest in men, even if they offer an out, because boyfriends simply aren’t “her priority,” a line so perfect, I hope to hear it from women in real life. Malika wants to get out by the strength of her own talent, and her focus on music earned her a chance to record a demo, if she can afford the studio time. So she takes a job driving for a drug smuggler, only to meet Amal (Soufia Issami), another girl working for the smuggler.
Malika and Amal are two polar opposites, whose lives seem to be going in completely different directions. Amal is deep in the drug trade, well aware that getting out will likely mean her death, which seems more and more likely when she reveals her pregnancy. She speaks of boyfriends like a personal accomplishment, and makes fun of Malika for being a good girl. Malika has little interest in Amal, who at first she looks upon as little more than a junkie. But writer/director Sean Gullette somehow finds a way of making the two come together in a believable way. They are connected because of the simple fact that they are both women in a business world, seemingly ruled by men. Malika wants Amal to stand-up for herself, and her unborn child, and will put herself in danger to help her do it.
Gullette, better known for his work as an actor (Pi, Happy Accidents, Requiem for a Dream), steps behind the camera with the kind of confidence which suggests a natural -born director. Every aspect of Traitors comes together with perfect clarity and purpose; music, production design, cinematography and especially, the editing which drives the film’s energy even when the characters are literally just driving through the mountains. Traitors has a vibrant, exciting look and feeling which makes the political/social commentary emerge for the audience only as an afterthought, but will keep you talking long after walking out of the theater. And to see a film with two female protagonists as well defined as Gullette has created proves that Hollywood films simply aren’t work hard enough to find and create such women in their action films.