Rendition is a movie which wears its political
convictions on its sleeve.
doesn't mean that it does not make an important point about life in the
post-Iraq America, nor that they are in any way incorrect in their absolute
rejection of the inhuman practice known as "extraordinary rendition."
It just means that the film has an agenda and a point it is determined to
Whether it makes it successfully, I suppose,
all depends on your side of the debate -- though I find it hard to believe
that anyone can be pro-torture, though as Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto
Gonzales have proven, those people are out there.
The policy of extraordinary
rendition was actually created during the Clinton administration -- as the
screenplay is careful to point out -- but at the time it was only supposed
to be for extraordinary cases. In recent years, though, it seems to
have become more and more ordinary, as proven by Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo
Essentially, it allows the government to send suspected terrorists to
prisons outside of the United States, for an indefinite amount of time,
without an attorney, without notifying their families, without any Geneva
Convention rights -- and allow people not necessarily tied to the government
to try to gather information from them in any way
necessary. Torture, starvation, solitary confinement, humiliation --
none of these are off the table.
simply, is a dramatization of this quandary. It looks at what happened
from many sides, but essentially it is the story of one man. Rendition,
beginning of the film, a suicide bomber destroys a square in an unnamed
African country. The target was a government strongman for the local
government (Igal Naor) and amongst the dead is a CIA agent who happened to
be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This sets off a whole
series of events, some of which lead to an Egyptian-born American named
Anwar (Omar Metwally) who is returning to his pregnant wife Isabella (Reese
Witherspoon) and son from a business trip in Cape Town. Apparently he
received some phone calls from a cell phone that was believed to belong to
the terrorist responsible for the bombing. When his flight touches
down, he is kidnapped in a scene that is shocking in its casual simplicity.
One moment he is there. The next he is gone.
Despite the fact that there
is no real evidence and he passed his lie detector test, the neo-con head of
the program (Meryl Streep) assures that Anwar is flown to the African
country for interrogation.
The partner of the dead agent, a
pencil-pushing desk jockey (Jake Gyllenhaal) with not that much field
experience, is given the responsibility of observing the interrogations, but
the more he sees the man tortured, the more the agent is sure that the
prisoner is indeed innocent.
There is also an ongoing
subplot about the interrogator's young daughter having a relationship with a
rebellious teen -- a thread that at first seems extraneous but eventually
becomes indelibly woven into the story.
There is some wonderful
acting on display here, and yet with the terrific cast it seems like they
could have done even more. Witherspoon in particular is very good with
what she has -- but she doesn't get nearly enough time or things to do.
Streep, as always, is wonderful in a display of chicken-hawk -- and yet
we've seen her do this role before.
The two most powerful
performances were by lesser-known actors: Metwally and Naor singe their
better known co-stars with their intensity. It's probably not a good
thing that the most interesting and multi-layered character here is the
torturer, but Naor commands every scene he is in.
In the end, Rendition
takes a vital and divisive controversy and plays it a little too safe.
It is a heartrending and scary film, but it could have been even more.
Jay S. Jacobs