Taken Away: U.S. Export Torture Policy Takes a Beating

Maui Time | October 14, 2007
After overblown stories of walkouts by critics during its Toronto film festival debut, Rendition proves to have enough substance, momentum and drama to validate its entertainment value as a politically charged thriller.

Reese Witherspoon plays Isabella, the pregnant wife of Egyptian American Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), a chemical engineer who gets abducted by U.S. Special Forces on suspicion of terrorism upon his return from a business convention in South Africa. El-Ibrahimi is secreted to a North African dungeon where local police kingpin Abasi gleefully tortures him with the tacit assistance of CIA cat's paw Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who survived the suicide bombing that gave rise to El-Ibrahimi's abduction.

Isabella discovers duty-free charges on her husband's credit card that refute the airline's claim that El-Ibrahimi was never on his return flight, and visits former college friend Alan (Peter Sarsgaard) in Washington D.C. where he now works as an aide to Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin). Running parallel to Isabella's quest to locate her missing husband, and the barbarous abuse he suffers abroad, is the backstory of the suicide bombing, of which El-Ibrahimi is suspected of being involved, as it relates to Abasi's romantically confused daughter who mistakenly dates a terrorist.

Audiences concerned that Rendition errs on the side of bleeding-heart liberals can take solace in the film's willingness to cast blame for the origin of "extraordinary rendition," as part of U.S. government policy, on former President Clinton. Humanitarians will find encouragement in the film's scathing tone that takes aim at the very nature of torture, secret or otherwise, as an impotent method for discovering facts. Gyllenhaal's increasingly sensitive CIA agent does some impressive thematic dart throwing by quoting Shakespeare on the subject in the third act, lest anyone forget that the subject of torture has been well chewed over by stronger minds in history.

Suspicion is a powerful deceiver that turns a quick circle back to its creator. At the helm of the CIA rendition program is Corrinne Whitman (Meryl Streep) a brainwashed black widow ideologue whose views on terrorism prevention ironically align with Abasi's limited sense of justice. Director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) does a serviceable job with upstart screenwriter Kelley Sane's written-on-the-wall script. And although supporting cast members Alan Arkin and Meryl Streep suffer from underwritten roles, the actors appropriately emphasize their characters' egos as guiding beacons of damning hubris. They are people who live in self-promoted private hells that they are only too happy to impose others in the form of living nightmares.

Rendition comes out in a season of R-word film titles (see Redacted and Reservation Road) set to assault cinema marquees with bloody threads of alliteration. What these films share in common is the death of young people by mechanized forces. Cars, bullets and bombs dismantle callow human life with an abstract force and logic that most people can comprehend, if not rationalize, in a way that lets those responsible off the hook. Rendition is the best of the three movies because it's a humanitarian film rather than a political one even if that subtext is present. It might not rise to the complexity of Syriana, but Rendition isn't a flimsy movie either.

Rated R, 122 mins. (B-)

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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