– Summary –
Director : Gavin Hood
Year Of Release : 2007
Principal Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Omar Metwally, Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard, Aramis Knight, JK Simmons, Bob Gunton.
Approx Running Time : 122 Minutes
Synopsis: After her husband is abducted out of America by order of the Government, one woman desperately searches for answers in the shadows of claims of terrorism.
What we think : Searing indictment on US Government policy in fighting domestic terrorism, Rendition is chilling in the truth behind its fictionalized premise. While one must surely hope that this kind of thing doesn’t happen, it’s just as easy to suspect that it does. Rendition is taut, tense and gripping: Gyllenhall is intense, Witherspoon suitably harried, and Streep a complete bitch.
A mind bending film filled with concepts most of us would find horrific, Rendition is a superbly acted and executed film with plenty to spark conversation about the “means to and end” attitude of the US laws regarding enemy combatants (terrorists) and their treatment. The use of “extraordinary rendition” by the CIA to remove people to countries outside the US in order to torture them to extract information is based on a true case where a man was mistaken for a terrorist due to similarities with their names.
As an ensemble piece, Rendition is well paced by director Gavin Hood. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as CIA agent Douglas Freeman, he must accompany the captured suspect Anwar El-Ibrahimi (played with perfect confusion by Omar Metwally) to a foreign country (unspecified) for his interrogation about links to terrorist activities. El-Ibrahimi’s wife, American born Isabella (played by a convincing Reese Witherspoon) is never told her husband has been taken, and when she finds out, through her friend in Washington, is unable to get any information from the bureaucratic woman behind the action, Meryl Streep. Confused and pregnant, Isabella attempts to force the issue, but fails, while in the interrogation room, El-Ibrahimi is becoming more and more despondent, as he realizes the perilous situation he is in.
While the US based storyline continues, this is interwoven with a fabulous interplay between a young Arabic woman (Fatima, played by a luminous Zineb Oukach) and her boyfriend Khalid, performed with solemn intensity by Moa Khouas. Their storyline is strangely counterpointed by the more regulation storytelling of the US based themes, as well as the Gyllenhaal plot, and for a fair part of the film you are left wondering how that story ties in with the rest of the film: but it does in one of the most jaw dropping plot developments since Fight Club’s denouement savaged viewers back in ’99. Let me just say that what you see ain’t necessarily what you get!
The film develops the plot intelligently, refusing to dumb itself down in any way: which makes the gradual release of information to the viewer that much more pronounced when it occurs.
The film doesn’t shy away from the violence, either, and some viewers may find the scenes of torture hard to stomach: imagine if you were the one actually being tortured! Waterboarding, often considered the most cruel and unusual form of torture, is hinted at at one point, but never shown in it’s full brutality. The scenes are respectfully shot, yet still intensely perverse in their cruelty.
Director Hood’s management of his cast to evoke a maximum response is superb, eliciting the most naturalistic performances from the less experienced cast-members, while allowing the talent of the main cast to shine through. His crosscutting of storylines is well done, allowing the tension from each cliffhanger cut to brew significantly: as a result, the payoff is excellent. The film never panders to the audiences intelligence: you may have to work at figuring out what is going on, rather than expect the film to simply tell you.
Overall, this is a thinking persons thriller, with plenty of moments to make you cringe and gasp, as well as watch a second time to catch what you missed the first time. Rendition is superb film-making on a level we really aren’t used to seeing. Excellent.