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Rendition Tortures Viewers with Simplicity and Slow Pacing

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2007 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
<i>Rendition</i> Tortures Viewers with Simplicity and Slow Pacing

DVD Release Date:  February 19, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  October 19, 2007
Rating:  R (torture-related violence, language)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  120 min.
Director:  Gavin Hood
Actors:  Omar Metwally, Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard, Meryl Streep, Aramis Knight

In 2005’s Syriana, the criss-crossing plots were so complex that even my smartest, savviest friends were left with a collective “What just happened here?” as the credits rolled. Even though the film earned its share of critical props, most reviewers agreed that the screenwriters probably bit off more than most audiences could chew in the course of two-plus hours.

Now in stark contrast, Rendition takes almost the opposite approach as the filmmakers deal with another politically charged, ripped-from-the-headlines topic. This story centers around the government’s policy of “extraordinary rendition,” the sanctioned kidnapping of foreign nationals, who are deemed security threats, to overseas prisons for brutal torture.

While certainly a provocative topic in a post 9/11 world, the team behind Rendition doesn’t mind choosing the most simplistic, even manipulative, methods to getting its message across. And that ultimately wastes the wealth of talent of actors like Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon.

Sadly, Rendition does little to shed light on an issue that most Americans  probably feel divided on. While many might find the no-holds-barred style of torture repugnant from a moral standpoint, the fact that it’s in the name of national security is what muddies the proverbial waters. Do we sacrifice the lives of some for the benefit of many? Or is that simply unacceptable?

But in Rendition, the filmmakers make it abundantly clear what side is the “right” one by using a no-brainer example as its thesis. From the get-go, it’s evident that the CIA got the wrong guy when they kidnap and repeatedly torture Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally). Not only is the evidence lousy (they think they may have a cell phone connection between El-Ibrahimi and a known terrorist behind a recent bombing in Africa—not sure that would hold up in a court of law), but El-Ibrahimi only seems to be a suspect because he was born in Egypt.

Of course, the error of the government’s ways is highlighted even more dramatically when you discover that El-Ibrahimi is a green card holder (of 20 years now) who lives in suburban Chicago with his pregnant American wife Isabella (Witherspoon) and a young son. A feisty, moving performance by Witherspoon as the wife who just wants her missing husband to return home, definitely adds emotional gravitas for the cause. Especially when the high-ranking government official, Corrine Whitman (a steely Meryl Streep, who is far more devilish here than in Prada) who gave the thumbs up on the effort, couldn’t care less about Isabella’s plight. In fact, in her Southern drawl (eerily reminiscent of another decidedly anti-terrorist high ranking official currently in office), she denies ever hearing of El-Ibrahimi and dispassionately shuts down Isabella any chance she has.

If that’s not enough to pummel the audience over the head with “what’s right,” the screenwriters go over the top to make the bad guys really bad and the good guys really good. The man who is torturing El-Ibrahimi (Igal Naor) is such a cartoonishly bad villain that it’s difficult to believe he’s really human. You half expect Bugs Bunny to show up later or something. And then there’s Douglas Freeman (Gyllenhaal), who is clearly the hero in his noble quest to prove El-Ibrahimi’s innocence. Not only does Gyllenhaal seem so wrong for this role, but his motivation is never clear because his character is so underdeveloped in the beginning. All the audience ever knows about Freeman is that he drowns his sorrows in alcohol and likes to participate in extra-curricular activities with one of his co-workers. He hardly seems like the poster boy for justice.

It’s these flaws, not to mention a snail’s pace, that make Rendition less impressive than it could’ve been. Instead of making a point with a compelling storyline, the filmmakers settle for what ends up feeling like a bunch of manipulative propaganda that can’t help but insult the intelligence of the audience.
 
CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking is shown.
  • Language/Profanity:  An assortment of profanities, including a few “F” words. God’s name is also taken in vain on several occasions.
  • Sex/Nudity:  It’s clear that Douglas and one of his co-workers are sleeping together, but nothing much is shown aside from passionate kissing. Also, Anwar is stripped of his clothes when he’s being tortured, but nothing gratuitous is shown.
  • Violence:  A bomb goes off, killing countless people, mostly women and children. A suspected terrorist is stripped, thrown in a hole and tortured in a variety of manners that aren’t easy to watch. And because of the region’s post-attack peril, there’s also a lot of gunfire retaliation.