Rendition does its job in exposing an obvious flaw in the war against terrorism. But in trying to stir your soul, the low-energy film only manages to come off heavy-handed and manipulative.
"Extraordinary rendition" is the very real practice of transporting terrorist suspects to a foreign country where they can be interrogated or held for the purpose of gathering intelligence or to face trial. In other words, it's a way to torture someone into confessing terrorist connections. And as the CIA's head of terrorism, Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep), explains, rendition is a necessary evil in catching the bad guys. But what happens when they nab someone who truly is innocent? Such is the case with Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-American chemical engineer who is taken while on his way home from a business trip in South Africa and then shipped off to an undisclosed North African city for interrogation. His pregnant American wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) is frantically trying to find him, even asking an old college flame (Peter Sarsgaard), now an aide to a U.S. senator, for help. Meanwhile, Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal)--a CIA field officer who happens to be in the location of the latest terrorist attack Anwar is accused of being a part ofis sent in to observe Anwar's "questioning" by the local police captain Abasi Fawal (Yagal Nior). Douglas doesn't really care for the joband eventually does something about it.
The Arab actors far outshine their American counterparts in Renditionsave for perhaps Meryl Streep, who could read the Yellow Pages and make it intriguing. Her tough-as-nails bureaucrat is utterly convinced what she is doing is the right thingand the actress plays it with complete resolve. Metwally (Munich) has the unenviable task of being filthy and naked, not to mention tortured, throughout most of the movie but manages to bring humility to the role. Nior, too, commands the screen whenever he is on it. But the other American actors bring Rendition down. Witherspoon is required to play her thankless role without her usual pep, and we miss it. Not even her Oscar moment in which she screams at Streep's Whitman, demanding to know the whereabouts of her husband, can invoke much emotion. Gyllenhaal is also fairly lackluster as the very green CIA agent who witnesses the horror of torture tactics. When he finally springs into action, it's almost too late for us to care about his character. Sarsgaard is entirely wasted, merely the conduit to explain "rendition" to the audience, and Alan Arkin as the U.S. senator simply barks a lot.
Although South African director Gavin Hood gave us the searing, Oscar-winning foreign film Tsotsi, he may not yet have enough experience to handle something on a grander scale. Visually, Hood knows what he is doing. The camera is fluid and the shots well framed, but Rendition fails to inspire in its message. It moves slowly, manipulativelyeven the torture scenes, albeit always hard to watch, are almost rudimentary. Plus, why see a movie about something you can either read about in the papers or watch on the news? The only time Rendition truly shines is in screenwriter Kelley Sane's far more interesting subplot revolving around Fawal and his defiant daughter Fatima, played with exquisite beauty by newcomer Zineb Oukach. The traditional Fawal is unwavering in his disciples, so much so that he has driven his daughter into the arms of a mysterious young man who offers excitement and the promise of freedom. It's obvious Hood feels more comfortable framing the more intimate, small details. In fact, had this plotline been the focus, Rendition would have soared. The title would have had to change, though.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.