The Little Traitor -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Set in 1947 Palestine, when the area still was ruled by the British, "The Little Traitor" tells how 11-year-old Proffi (Ido Port) befriends the hated enemy, in the form of English Sgt. Dunlop (Alfred Molina), and sticks with him despite the suspicions of friends and family.

Despite this promising subject matter, the film runs out of steam two-thirds of the way through and becomes a sort of Palestinian "Porky's," ending with a fast-forward 30 years into the future that is confusing and abrupt.

Already a presence at several Jewish film festivals, "Traitor" boasts strong work from the ever-watchable Molina and fine production values. Its insular nature and muddled ending does mean its theatrical opportunities will be limited to urban niche markets.

Director Lynn Roth establishes right up front that the British mandate in Palestine is considered only temporary by Jewish settlers, and they'll do almost anything to shorten it even more. So even adolescent Proffi and his buddies are planning to blow up a British army truck with a homemade explosive device.

One day, Proffi is caught out after curfew by Sgt. Dunlap, who instead of hauling him off to jail takes him home and invites the boy to visit him at the army barracks. Seeing this as an opportunity to gain intelligence about British movements, Proffi accepts Dunlop's offer, then finds that the sarge is an all-around nice guy who wants to learn Hebrew and is studying the Old Testament. The two soon become friends, though Proffi keeps this information from his family and the neighborhood kids.

But his secret soon becomes common knowledge, and Proffi is put on trial (by what Jewish organization is never made clear), accused of being a traitor. Although acquitted, he still is the object of suspicion, even though Sgt. Dunlop's tour of duty is now up, and he has decamped to England.

With Dunlop (and Molina) out of the picture, "Traitor" then turns to the subject of Proffi's overactive hormones and his lust for an older neighbor and a classmate. The switch in subject matter is jarring, and this, coupled with a jump into the future in which the adult Proffi and the sarge reunite, ends the film in an unclear and awkward manner.

This is especially galling because even though a small-scale story, the tale of this mismatched pair -- the occupier and the occupied -- is engaging enough and a nice little lesson in the common threads that bind us all. But by changing course and rushing its ending, "Traitor" blows its message -- and the audience's sympathy.

Opens: Friday, Oct. 16 (Westchester Films)
Production: Evanstone Films and Panther Prods.
Cast: Alfred Molina, Ido Port, Theodore Bikel, Rami Heuberger, Gilya Stern, Jake Barker
Director-screenwriter: Lynn Roth
Producers: Lynn Roth, Eitan Evan
Executive producer: Marilyn Hall
Director of photography: Amnon Zalait
Music: Deborah Lurie
Costume designer: Inbal Shuki
Editors: Michael Ruscio, Danny Shick
No rating, 89 minutes