Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.
Release Date: October 19th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Gavin Hood Actors: Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard, Omar Metwally, J.K. Simmons, Zineb Oukach, Rosie Malek-Yonan
distressingly realistic film that unveils the horrors of terrorism and what governments do to get to the roots of evil, “Rendition” suffers primarily from the fact that reality doesn’t always equal entertainment. Incredibly moving performances and well-developed characters evoke sympathy for its duration, but wholehearted satisfaction routinely eludes the picture. It’s not the morbid, perturbing premise that is detrimental; it’s the storytelling and the execution that fall short.
Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is captured by the FBI and interrogated for suspected terrorist activities. When the initial investigation leads nowhere, he is shipped out of the U.S. in a process called “extraordinary rendition” to be further questioned via considerably more brutal methods. Meanwhile, his wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) pleads with longtime friend Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard) to help locate her missing husband. In South Africa, where Anwar is being held, investigations of a bombing that killed a U.S. agent leads Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) to observe the inhuman treatment of political/war prisoners, and to battle with the idea of sacrificing an innocent life in the remote chance that it will save others.
“Rendition” examines the lengths people will go to seek justice. It also examines what forms of justice people seek, and the oftentimes injurious effect it has on innocent bystanders. Douglas must consider the wrongheadedness of the horrific torturing of Anwar – who only possesses the possibility of information – and disobeying his superiors (the order and the hierarchy he so depends upon). Similarly, Alan weighs his conscience against doing what he believes to be right, as well as against the importance and preservation of his career. Almost everyone else in the film faces comparable mental turmoil, including Alan Arkin as Senator Hawkins, who has much less compassion for Isabella, and Meryl Streep as Corrine Whitman, who chooses to ignore the suffering of others due to her paranoid decision-making. It is a fascinating morality tale to study, even if it’s unpleasant to do so.
But “Rendition” suffers from too many disparate stories and a bizarre, unnecessary time shift that only works to confuse the audience. Similar to 2006’s “Babel,” “Rendition” includes too many characters and too many subplots – a purposeful design but a faulty one. Douglas’ storyline, involving an extraneous love interest, is connected to Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor), who oversees the violent torture of enemy suspects. Meanwhile, Abasi’s daughter Fatima (Zineb Oukach) runs away from home to protest her arranged marriage, falling into the arms of a Jihad terrorist who likewise has mixed feelings about his purpose and beliefs. It’s all too much to reach its simple point, which could have been more impactful with a greater sense of focus.
The film’s biggest highlight is the superb acting from nearly all of its major players. Witherspoon is exceptional as the devoted and tear-inducing mother, who claims the added sympathy factor of a troubled young child and a pregnancy. Gyllenhaal is also engaging to watch, though a little static at times, and Metwally generates a harrowing performance of being tortured for two hours. Streep, Arkin, and Sarsgaard actually provide even better, more memorable turns due to their strong personalities and commanding presences. But, thanks to a confusingly ill-placed time jump near the conclusion, and a disturbing storyline peppered with needless details, “Rendition” only hints at something truly powerful.
– Mike Massie