About halfway through Gavin Hood
's Rendition, Peter Sarsgaard
's dweeby congressman's assistant approaches Meryl Streep
's white witch of the CIA with enough huff-and-puff to blow down a Dairy Queen. The two ideological opposites go at it with crisp, cool reverie: He promises to send her a copy of the Constitution while she promises him that a copy of the 9/11 Report will be arrive in his mailbox posthaste. It's sloganeering at its finest and that's not the half of it.
CIA watchdog Corrine Whitman (Streep) sets up the titular protocol when evidence is uncovered against Chicago family man and chemical engineer Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), Egyptian by birth. Whitman suspects that El-Ibrahimi had a hand in a recent bombing of an unnamed North African tea house; an attempt on the life of North African security head Fawal (Igal Naor). Fawal heads the "interrogation" with CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal
) there as counsel while they electrocute, drown, beat, and strangle Anwar to give up information on the attack. Article continues below
Soon enough, Anwar's pregnant wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon
) begins stirring the pot with her ex-flame and Senator's aide Alan Smith (Sarsgaard). As a happy coincidence, it's at the same time that Freeman's conscience kicks in after he realizes that Anwar truly knows nothing about the attacks and gets ready to hightail it out of the prison with Anwar. Meanwhile, Fawal's daughter spends her nights kissing an extremist prepping for an attack to avenge his brother, the victim of one of the security chief's prior interrogations.
Seductively shot by the great Dion Beebe (Collateral, Miami Vice
), Hood has moved from very personal terrain (Tsotsi
) to a globe-spanning human rights drama. The transition, at times daunting and inexcusably partisan, shows Hood as an assured director in the thick of multiple narratives. The filmmaker tightly winds each scene and brings out the strengths in Kelley Sane's skin-deep script. There's a solid scaffolding in Sane's pages, but the script has no ear for the emotional maelstrom swirling among these characters, giving the actors very little to work with. The performances vary from passable to steadfast, but Naor, brooding with the weight of tradition and responsibility, steals the film.
The film's title comes from the term "extraordinary rendition," a buzzword dreamt up during the Clinton administration for when the government secretly extradites terrorist suspects to other countries to weasel around civil liberties. Whereas Stephen Gaghan's Syriana found fault with liberals and conservatives alike, Rendition blindly believes in one ending that will rightly crown those who stand against torture and persecution as the righteous. Towards the later half, the film goes so far as to presuppose that if people were to merely read about the torture and mistreatment of an innocent that would change things for the better. In many ways, Rendition can be best described as a fantasy.