Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) was a Sudanese-born United States citizen who, after watching his father die in a car bombing when he was only twelve years old, went on to become an international Arms Dealer who specializes in selling explosives to terrorist organizations. While on business Samir meets a man named Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), the leader of a small terror cell in Yemen, whom Samir offers to provide equipment and training so that his men, in Samir's words, "won't blow themselves up... unintentionally, that is."
Their meeting is interrupted when a squadron of local soldiers, led by FBI agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) assault Omar's compound and capture both Omar and Samir. After the FBI agent's unsuccessful attempt to persuade Samir to provide information on his clients in exchange for his freedom, the pair are left to rot in a Yemeni prison. Impressed by Samir's loyalty and devotion to the Islamic faith, Omar offers him a position in his group, and soon after they both escape the prison compound and flee the country.
Months later, when the bombing of a U.S. consulate building in France is linked to Samir, the FBI scrambles to dig up as much information as they can on the enigmatic man. Clayton and Archer travel the globe in an attempt to retrace his footsteps and to try to understand just what would motivate a man whose father was murdered by terrorists to join their cause and, more urgently, where the next bombing will occur.
This film provides examples of the following:
- Adult Fear: What the Nathir network plans to invoke with their terrorist attack. Most people don't work in obvious high-value targets, like the Twin Towers or the Pentagon. However, by blowing up thirty buses around the United States on the same day, Nathir wants to bring home to U.S. citizens the reality that any of them could be a target, and that even the most mundane activity, like getting on a Greyhound, could mean the end of your life.
- Arms Dealer: Samir, when we meet him. He's the street-level variety, providing explosives rather than more sophisticated weaponry, and supplying individual terrorist cells rather than entire armies.
- Black-and-Grey Morality: Sometimes sliding into Evil Versus Evil regions. It's not the kind of movie in which covert agents don't get their hands dirty.
- CIA Evil, FBI Good: Averted. Both FBI and CIA (or whichever agency is running Samir's infiltration) are well-meaning but beleaguered government agencies, doing their best to stop terrorist attacks but hampered by bureaucratic walls, as well as the very real concerns about leaks if sensitive information spreads too far.
- Deep Cover Agent: Samir. And the 30 suicide bombers in the US.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Fully justified! The explosion of the bus towards the end of the movie is dramatic, but when you've got thirty suicide-bombers on the same bus, at least several of whom blew themselves up at the same time, that's only to be expected.
- Fake Defector: Agent Carter presents Samir as such.
- Foil: Samir and Fareed, perhaps surprisingly. They have a similar role as infiltrators, Samir being an American agent working to subvert jihadist network and Fareed being a terrorist leader planning attacks in Western nations. They also work hard to establish their cover, Sayid as a devout Muslim fighter by spending years in war zones like Yemen, Bosnia, and Afghanistan and sharing the dangers of front-line jihadists, Fareed as a relatively liberal person who drinks wine, eats pork, lives in France, and generally shuns the image of The Fundamentalist. Much of Sayid's cover isn't really a cover, however, as he really is a devout Muslim and is entirely willing to die for what he believes his religion demands of him. Meanwhile, he points out that Fareed's "cover" identity is far more un-Islamic than it really needs to be, suggesting that Fareed is at least partly Becoming the Mask and doesn't actually care much about the religious cause that supposedly motivates him.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Omar doesn't originally trust Sayid, but their time together in a Yemeni prison brings them together.
- Flock of Wolves: The bus passengers are all suicide bombers.
- From Camouflage to Criminal: Samir, a U.S. Army veteran turned arms dealer. In a variation, this was originally done with the Army's consent: he was sent to Afghanistan in the 1980s to teach the anticommunist resistance how to build bombs. It's only later that he went into business for himself, fighting alongside Islamic militants in Afghanistan and Bosnia before finally ending up an arms dealer in Yemen where the movie picks up. And then it's revealed that this, too, was done for the U.S. government, which employs him as a deep-cover agent to infiltrate these movements.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: Special Agents Clayton and Archer, respectively. When Clayton offers Samir his freedom after interrupting a beating from Archer, Samir questions how "good" Clayton really is.Samir: "You want to know the difference between you and him? He at least knows he's an asshole."
- Hoist by His Own Petard: While dying in the line of duty is to be expected by suicide bombers, what the 30 terrorists who had trained to attack the United States did not expect was to be secretly put on the same bus by Samir.
- Hypocrite: The holy man who is exhorting the young men -most of them teenagers, actually- to don explosive suicide vests to carry out attacks in crowded areas. He's telling them it is their duty to Allah, that there is nothing more noble that to sacrifice the lives they were given to strike a blow against others, but it's perfectly clear that the piece of shit has absolutely no intention of putting on a vest himself.
- Immigrant Patriotism: Downplayed and possibly subverted. Sayid is a Sudanese immigrant who did join the Army and serve in it for a time, and he's still working for the U.S. government in the war on terror. However, his religion seems to be a much greater motivator for him, at least by the time of the movie, and he seems fairly cynical about the U.S. government's actions in the war on terror.
- Interservice Rivalry: After the U.S. consulate in Nice, France is bombed, the FBI learns that the CIA, who is notoriously hesitant to share their information with other agencies, sat on a tip they found six months prior that could have helped prevent the attack. Justified: the FBI turns out to have a mole inside it.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Samir agrees to put the suicide bombers on a bus. As in, putting all of them on one bus.
- Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Omar makes reference to having been raised in a boarding school in Switzerland. He's spent so much time in the West, he admits he now even dreams in English.
- The Man Behind the Man:
- Omar works for Fareed.
- Fareed works for Nathir.
- Fully justified, as terrorist networks like to protect their leaders, and the whole point of Samir's infiltration is to infiltrate the Nathir network level by level until he can bring the entire thing down.
- Middle Eastern Terrorists: The Nathir network is the Islamic fundamentalist version. Somewhat subverted in that many of its members, while ethnically Middle Eastern, have been raised in Western nations and may have Western nationalities, making them Western Terrorists as well.
- Mirror Character:
- Clayton and Samir. They're both strongly religious people, raised by strongly religious fathers, who've nevertheless become men of violence in the war on terror. They also share an urge to stand up against their religion's extremists, with Clayton remembering his youth helping put out the fires KKK arsonists started, and Samir working to infiltrate and neutralize jihadist cells.
- Samir and Omar. They're both devout believers in Islam who risk their lives for the religion they believe in. They don't have quite the same view of what that entails, though.
- Mirroring Factions: The jihadists and the American intelligence agency Samir is covertly working for. When Carter justifies collateral damage by saying that in a war, he does whatever it takes to win, he's reminded that jihadists use the same rationalization.
- Non-Action Big Bad: Nathir, the head of the terrorist network, as well as his lieutenant Fareed Mansour. They run a terrorist network, and are even willing to meet and interact with the troops themselves, but it's more than clear that they have no intention of strapping on a vest or getting into a gunfight themselves. Tellingly, we only ever see them in Western countries, where they appear to live as solid middle-class citizens, rather than in actual war zones like Yemen where Sayid and Omar spend a lot of their time.
- Oh, Crap!:
Prison Gang Leader: I have fifty men in this prison prepared to kill for me!Omar: And how many are prepared to die for you?
- When Samir tries to maintain his cover, he improvises a fight with his contact, pretending that he was assaulted only to get his contact shot dead. The contact was also the only person who knew that Samir is a Deep Cover Agent.
- The local prison gang leader experiences a milder version when Omar and his jihadists comes to Sayid's aid.
- Pistol-Whipping: When Samir gets the drop on Agent Clayton while on the run from the FBI and forced him to kneel, Clayton was surprised to be clubbed in the back of the head by his own pistol rather than shot with it.Archer: The real question is, why didn't he just shoot you?Clayton: Maybe because I didn't help you beat the hell out of him back in Yemen?
- Pet the Dog: Samir stands up for a fellow inmate who's being abused by the local prison bully. This, along with his refusal to submit to the bully because only God deserves that sort of respect, gain him Omar's respect and prompt him to intervene on his behalf and bring him into his trust.
- Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie: Obviously. A type three; the 9/11 attacks specifically are never mentioned, but the entire movie revolves around jihadist terrorism against Western targets.
- Prepare to Die: Played with in the Samir and Clayton scene mentioned above. Samir asks Clayton if he knows Lord's Prayer and tells him to pray, all while aiming pistol at the back of his head. It appears that the prayer was to hide the sound of gun being de-cocked.
- Ripped from the Headlines: The film tries to portray extremist acts of terrorism objectively - and does so pretty well.
- Say Your Prayers: Well, the movie abounds with Muslim suicide bombers, so it is only to be expected. Also Samir near the end of the movie, when he decides to make a final move.
- Tap on the Head: Averted. When Samir tries to subdue Clayton by hitting in the back of the head, it leaves the latter dazed but conscious.
- Title Drop: Done by Omar when Samir shoots Fareed and Nathir.
- They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Lampshaded. Clayton points out that eighty percent of Muslims aren't Arabs and most aren't even Middle Eastern, so even if you've narrowed your suspect's identity down to "Islamic fundamentalist," he still could look like absolutely anyone.