After a North African terrorist bombing an Egyptian-born, Chicago resident chemical engineer, Anwar el-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) disappears on a flight from South Africa to Washington DC. His American wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) and CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) find themselves caught up in a struggle to secure his release from a secret detention facility somewhere outside the US.
Review by Louise Keller:
Please don't be one of those people who look away, Reece Witherspoon's wife pleads with the Senator's aide (Peter Sarsgaard), when it is clear her missing husband is caught up in a classified government directive. Political and topical, this gripping thriller takes a sharp look at the nebulous quicksand that lies between good and evil. In the war against terror, there are many untold stories, and in Rendition, Academy Award-winning director Gavin Hood prises open the contentious issue of selective morality. They say there are three sides to every story, but in this tough story with ugly edges, there are many sides and issues at stake. Jake Gyllenhaal gets better with each role and here he is impressive as the novice CIA analyst forced to confront his own conscience.
There's a deafening sound of silence as the carnage settles after the bomb detonates in the busy city square. There is confusion, panic and despair. From onlookers we become participants as story strands weave together with key players from all sides. There's dust on the North African roads that conceal shadowed laneways with foreboding doors. 'Jihad is the only path to freedom,' goes the terrorists' mantra. We encounter a strict father, a planned marriage and forbidden love. When a passenger's records are deleted, there is an anxious wife, inhumane torture in a cavern, displaying disdain for human rights. The complexities of the situation become apparent as Gyllenhaal's Douglas Freeman inadvertently becomes compliant when forced to watch Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) endure his torture.
The entire cast is excellent: Metwally as the suspected terrorist sympathiser, Igal Naor as the unrelenting head of interrogation, Reece Witherspoon as the pregnant wife and Meryl Streep as the tough-nosed CIA head of terrorism whose policies are by the book, not the heart. It's a memorable scene, when she wears a pristine white suit while talking on the phone to Douglas, who is trying to numb his conscience with alcohol and dope in a dark, smoke-filled club. Hood concentrates on the emotional. There are silences and pauses. Expressions on faces convey a myriad of emotions while visceral music subliminally swallows us up. Tension builds as the climax draws near, and suddenly all the pieces begin to fit in the puzzle. From the specific to the big issue, Rendition is an engrossing and thought provoking drama that serves up a menu that is sadly part of the world in which we live.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The title pretty well tells you what to expect, a gritty story about the discredited CIA process of taking suspected terrorists to a foreign country to interrogate them under torture - away from US soil. It's a well crafted, dramatic and engaging story with every technical aspect perfectly delivered as you would expect from an American mainstream movie - especially one shot by the talented Aussie, Dion Beebe. That's not mere jingoism; his work is superb, and in a film where the visual language is so important, Beebe's work is crucial.
The filmmakers state in the production notes that they see this film as exploring the "grey area between left and right and right and wrong," finding no easy answers. Excuse my cynicism but this screenplay seems far too loaded for that claim to be taken seriously. It has taken the easiest option of all: in this story, the nice young Egyptian is not only easily likeable, living like an American, working hard and playing football with his son. His wife, played with anguished dread by Reece Witherspoon, is pregnant with their second child. My point is that the subject matter, from a political viewpoint, doesn't need to be buttressed with these heavy handed supports. This is an easy argument: innocent family man with pregnant wife is tortured by mistake. This simplistic approach simply won't do to make a dent in the campaign against torture.
Everything in the film is slanted like a Hollywood tale; the young suicide bomber is given a backstory to make us sympathetic to him, his pretty girlfriend is the angelic daughter of Egypt's anti terrorist operative and the simplifications turn the story into mulch. Well executed, superbly performed, troubling and thought provoking, but mulch.
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CAST: Omar Metwali, Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aramis Knight, Rosie Malek-Yonan, Ygal Naor, David Fabrizio, Mounir Margoum, Driss Roukhe, J. K. Simmons, Meryl Streep, Bob Gunton, Raymonde Amsalem, Simon Abkarian, Wendy Phillips, Peter Sarsgaard, Alan Arkin
PRODUCER: Steve Golin, David Kanter, Keith Redmon, Michael Sugar
DIRECTOR: Gavin Hood
SCRIPT: Kelley Sane
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dion Beebe
EDITOR: Megan Gill
MUSIC: Paul Hepker, Mark Kilian
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Barry Robison
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 14, 2008