Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Y’know what I liked about “Rendition?” I liked how non-topical it was.

            Well, o.k. it was very topical; it’s about an innocent American man who, because he was brown, and because of some very, very circumstantial evidence, was spirited out of the country to be interrogated and tortured regularly for a month. The Clinton administration signed the titular rendition act, allowing the government to do this sort of thing to terrorists, but ever since Bush II found out about it, his administration has been doing it with alarming frequency.


            In “Rendition,” the suspected terrorist is Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), who is a wealthy chemical engineer, married to a pretty and pregnant white woman named Isabella (Reese Witherspoon). The administration hawk who is so keen on torturing him is Connie Whitman (Meryl Streep), and the man who is so keen on actually torturing him is the thuggish “North African” police chief Abasi Nawal (Yigal Naor) who has just srivied an assassination attempt. It is never specified what North African country in which this takes place. Overseeing the torture is U.S. CIA pencil-pusher Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is unused to interrogations, but cold-eyed enough to not care too much (tanks to am explosion early in the film). Isabella, meanwhile, enlists the help of an ex-boyfriend named Alan (Peter Sarsgard) to find her missing husband. Alan, in turn, enlists the help of the senator he works for played by Alan Arkin.


            Oh, more subplot: it turns out that police chief, Abasi, is looking for his missing daughter Fatima (Zineb Oukach) who has run off with her boyfriend (Mohammed Khouas). Said boyfriend is part of a secret extremist organization.


            J.K. Simmons also appears.


            So, yeah, there’s a lot of ground covered in “Rendition.” Luckily, the film isn’t a preachy polemic about world politics or the evils of the current administration (although those things are in evidence). It’s rather about the careful distribution and implementation of power throughout the world. The smallest decision made by a quiet civilian can have lasting impact on hard-working American senators. It’s all clear and taut and thrilling, and never once feels like its sinking into the forceful “hyperlink” mire occupied by films like “Babel” and “Crash.”


            Director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”) wisely lets the actors showcase their talents, rather than treat everything like incidentals in a grand global mishigoss. And, with such a strong cast, it a wonder to behold. Streep and Arkin cannot help but be great, Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard play against type as a grizzled cynic, and a doe-eyed neophyte respectively, and Naor proves to be a strong presence as a man who can be a thug one minute and a strong ruler the next.


            There are a few contrived moments. For instance, there seemed little other reason to make Witherspoon’s character pregnant other than to have her lurch over with labor pains at a crucial moment, and it only helped the manipulation factor by making the torture victim not only wealthy and a good family man, but very handsome as well.

             Luckily “Rendition” survives these, and comes through as a stirring film that, largely, deals with a controversial subject in a powerful Hollywood way. Could it have been more raw? Yes. Could it have been more specific or truthful? Indeed. But as it is, it’s an above average entertainment, it comes through.

Published in: on November 12, 2007 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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