October 22, 2007

Movie Review: Rendition

To think that extraordinary rendition as portrayed in Rendition actually exists is frightening. Scratch that, it is terrifying. It boggles the mind that something like this could go on. I guess I shouldn't be surprised by what those in power are capable of, what lengths they will go to to serve their own ends. It is partially my fault for not knowing about things like this. When it comes to politics I must plead ignorance, it is not my forte, I don't really look into things that I should. That said, I am not sure what, exactly, Rendition is attempting to say about the real world. Perhaps it is just here to put a face on the practice. Perhaps it is here in the service of liberal propaganda. Frankly, it doesn't matter in the long run. What is important is how good the movie is on its own terms. If you want to read more meaning into this film, more power to you, I am sure there is more there for the discovering.

For those of you who do not know what extraordinary rendition is, here is the quick definition: it is the process by which suspected terrorists can be snatched and transported to a country that employs harsh procedures to procure information. Basically, if you are suspected of being a terrorist or being connected to terrorist acts, you can be kidnapped and transported to another country where you will be tortured until you give up the sought after information. Although the US denies it, it is strongly believed that the US has practiced this on a number of occasions, especially since 9/11. This is the basis for Rendition.

Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian born American chemical engineer, boards a flight from Cape Town, South Africa where he was attending a conference, with a final destination of Chicago, where his very pregnant wife (Reese Witherspoon) and young son wait for him. He never arrives.

Earlier that day (I think, it wasn't clear) there was a terrorist attack in an unnamed North African country. It was an attempt on the life of Abasi Fawal, an official who specializes in torture. It was unsuccessful in achieving its goal, but it did happen to take the life of a CIA official as part of its collateral damage. This gets the attention of Security head Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep), she puts in the order to have Anwar "transferred." And so, the three-pronged story begins to weave itself together.

Yes, I said three-pronged. You have the story of Anwar's wife, Isabella, recruiting an old boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) who works for a senator (Alan Arkin) in her search for her missing husband. Secondly, there is the story of Anwar's torture, observed by Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a CIA analyst that is not suited for this type of work. Finally there is Abasi Fawal's daughter's romance with an unapproved young man. All three of these threads come together in interesting fashion, even if the chronology gets a little fuzzy, ultimately undermining what had gone on before.

It is definitely an interesting film, one that could be considered eye-opening to many. At the same time, I cannot help but feel that it could have been stronger. Aside from the chronology, the story is told in a rather straight forward manner. It will ellicit a response from anyone caught in its wake, whether you want it to or not. I left the theater liking the movie, although I was not sure why. It seems to boil down the big issues to emotional moments showing how these things affect people around the world and how we are all tied together. However, the more I think about it the less I seem to think of it. It is not that it is a bad movie, not by a long shot, but it could have been a bit deeper and appeared less of a message movie.

Rendition hits many emotional highs, Isabella confronting Whitman, Anwar's tortured cries, the lovelorn Fatima Fawal. However, it is more moments than it is big picture, or even well-rounded characters. We see Isabella's desperation, but it seems to be focused on the emotinal highs more than digging into the truth. Douglas has obvious guilt, but the way it is portrayed just makes him a catatonic alcoholic. It also takes a little while for the teenage lovestory to make its way into the big picture, despite its supreme importance.

Bottomline. Again, it is a good movie. It is shot well and features some good performances. Rendition will open your eyes to a tactic that is unfathomable. The issue of extraordinary rendition may have been reduced to a series of easy to pick sides, but it still gets some thought processes moving. Gavin Hood has directed a feature that picked its topic and ran with it. I hesitate to call it an "important" film, but it is one well worth seeing.



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