PLOT: When an Egyptian born American is detained while returning to the United States, he is taken for questioning in a cruel and unusual way. The records of his return to the United States are erased, leaving his pregnant wife wondering what happened to her husband. Meanwhile, the man in charge (not Jake Gyllenhaal) of interrogating the suspect is having issues of his own while his daughter is involved with a might be terrorist. Questions are raised and Reese Witherspoon is in the movie, but sometimes you can barely tell. And the idea of torturing and destroying one man to save thousands in brought to the table.
An act the U.S. Government calls, Extraordinary Rendition, started under the Clinton Administration. It gives the CIA and other U.S. agencies the power to transfer any foreign nationals suspected of terrorism to be taken to detention for interrogation. I won’t go too much into my belief on whether the act is right or wrong in my mind, and I won’t speak about the political aspect of it with the current state of the nation. But in the film RENDITION, an Egyptian born U.S. citizen is removed from the airport once he arrives back in America, while his pregnant wife and their son wait for him outside the gate. The family is told nothing, and all the records of him being on the flight are removed.
The man detained is Anwar El-Ibrahimi (played with gut-wrenching conviction by Omar Metwally), he is presented as being clueless as to why he is taken and is given no reason and no access to contact anyone. His wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon), at first feels that maybe there has been a mistake in coordinating the date or time, but soon finds herself frightened and angry that nobody will tell her where her husband is. She soon enlists the help of an old friend that works in the Senator’s office. Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard) tries to help her as much as he can, but when he gets close to the woman making certain decisions, his career is threatened, and he responds.
Meanwhile, Anwar is held captive in an undisclosed location. He is asked questions about calls he has received from a known terrorist, and when his answers do not satisfy his captors, he is tortured. These scenes in particular, which includes a strong performance by Igal Naor as Abasi Fawal, the man in charge of the detention, are shockingly powerful. Abasi is a man who seems all powerful, but is a failure as the father of a young girl who is rebelling against his ways. The “interrogation“ almost feel more disturbing than even the gruesome acts in HOSTEL. Not because there are bloody limbs and burned out eyes, but it feels absolutely real and is probably happening somewhere as I write this. He is stripped, bound and at one point tortured with water. Doesn’t sound too vile, but trust me, it is very disturbing and powerful.
One of the Americans involved in the abduction is Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who at some point, begins to question whether or not the act is right or wrong. This could have been a fantastic role, especially if they had given it to the talented Peter Sarsgaard instead. He would have had the acting chops to make you understand his decisions. Then I might have believed his transformation. It’s not to say that I think Jake is a weak actor, I usually like him quite a bit. But here, he seemed to be the wrong choice and lacked the depth that Douglas should have had. This was one of a number of missteps the film had taken.
There are also several questions left which plagued me afterward. I wish I could give them here but I don’t want to spoil anything for the viewer. For one (avoiding spoilers) I do question the final actions taken and how easy it seemed on behalf of what Douglas does. I also would have liked to have seen more of Ms. Witherspoon who seems to be in the film for about twenty minutes. And that is her name you see on the poster, it is also her picture, but she is a supporting role. RENDITION is really about Gyllenhaal and Naor with his teenage daughter and her connection to a is he or isn't he terrorist. I didn’t feel terribly involved in the Romeo and Juliet aspect of the film. It felt clichéd and bland and took away from the stronger aspects of the film.
Yet director Gavin Hood does nice work here. He is able to balance the political aspects with the more basic thriller aspects. His direction and the way the story is told as a non-traditional structure, work as an interesting narrative. The problem is not in his hands, it is in the movie of the week script. But thankfully, when we focus on Anwar, I felt something. Omar Metwally, as I mentioned before, is wonderful in the role of Anwar. And this is an emotionally and physically naked role. A big reason the scenes feel so shocking is because of his performance. And Hood keeps the tension mounting every time we return to his struggles. If there had been a stronger and more mature actor as Douglas, these scenes would have been brilliant.
This is a mixed bag of a film but it is ultimately an entertaining watch. All the actors do some nice work, even Jake, but he seemed just out of place in the role. I also have to mention Meryl Streep who is an absolute bitch as Corrine Whitman, the all powerful voice of which men or women should be detained as a threat to the United States. But she is not necessarily painted as the bad guy, just the one who has to make some controversial decisions. After watching, you may find yourself questioning the morality of “extraordinary rendition”. It is an interesting topic which the film brings up with bias. Yet ultimately, the film is not as shocking or important as it tries to be. It feels more like a couple hours of popcorn political intrigue and there is certainly enough good here to make it worth a look.
My rating 6.5/10 -- JimmyO