A noirish thriller set firmly within a contemporary political climate, writer/director Rit Saraswat's monochromatic Traitor manages to lull the viewer into a false sense of security that is slowly peeled away over the course of its nearly 17-minute running time.
The setting is a futuristic yet comfortable Los Angeles, the kind of Los Angeles one sees in faded 50's picturebooks and old school detective thrillers but also the kind of Los Angeles that stylistically harbors a not so grand secret - the world is changing and that's not always a good thing.
The film centers around a detective we know as Sam (Paras Patel), the kind of gumshoe detective we've seen before. He's trying to make a name for himself, a difficult place to be in a world that has suddenly created and us vs. them mentality and a world where looking over one's shoulder is a way of life. When he's approached by a sultry dame, and there's always a sultry dame in this kind of film, we know this isn't going to be a good thing.
It's not a good thing.
The dame, Lucy (Kate Watson), is mysterious but not so mysterious that you can't figure out pretty much right away that she's up to no good. She wants to hire Sam, as an informant if you will, a social detective of sorts looking out for some of those "others," she whispers the word Muslims just loudly enough that we know she's serious and softly enough that we know it's become a dirty word that isn't said much in public anymore, because those "others" are marked people now and marked people need to be found.
The problem is that Sam is loyal and that loyalty extends to Isra (Kally Khourshid), a close friend and confidante who may or may not be part of the very Muslim resistance that Lucy wants to squelch.
While Traitor could very easily have derailed into an awkward, overly obvious film it never does. While the dialogue occasionally is a little too paint-by-numbers, more often than not Saraswat has crafted a story that vividly tells an involving, engaging story that rings true of the current political climate in America while being set firmly within a more idyllic time and place.
The performances are uniformly strong, Paras Patel's Sam as comfortable as an old hat on a foggy Los Angeles morning and Watson's not so mysterious Lucy simmering with cold war tensions set in new world conflicts. Kally Khourshid may very well be the film's true gem, a stunning beauty whose face reveals a million truths and layers of complexity. Christina DeRosa adds some light touches of humor to the goings on, welcome touches that are vividly brought to life.
Traitor picked up a Best Film Noir Short Award from the Independent Shorts Awards and continues on the indie festival circuit where its unique voice should have no problem finding an audience. Michael Schilling's lensing is impeccable and beautiful, while Carmine Mattia's original music for the film provides the perfect accompaniment.
For more information on Traitor, visit the film's website linked to in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic