2007, R, 120 min. Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Omar Metwally, Peter Sarsgaard, Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Igal Naor, Zineb Oukach, Moa Khouas.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 19, 2007
Intelligent and well-meaning, Rendition is nevertheless an oversimplified and uneven attempt to arouse righteous indignation among its viewers. The attempt to make a politically passionate Hollywood movie is to be admired; it's just that the outcome in this case is likely to be one of mild consternation and easy dismissal due to the film's overreliance on stereotypes and diffuse melodrama. Gyllenhaal plays a CIA analyst portentously named Douglas Freeman, who becomes the U.S. government's point man at an undisclosed North African detention center, where he becomes witness to the torture of Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Metwally), the Egyptian-American husband of Isabella (Witherspoon). Snatched by government officials while out of the country on a business trip, El-Ibrahimi is held under the briefly noted policy of "extreme rendition" (concocted during the Clinton administration), by which suspected terrorists can be brought to other countries and tortured without the legal constraints of due process. Freeman at first wants to prove himself as more than a desk jockey but eventually suffers a crisis of conscience and must decide whether or not to live up to his surname. The characters are generally one-note figures: El-Ibrahimi suffers great tortures, while his pregnant wife beseeches all possibilities for assistance. Her old college friend (Sarsgaard), who now works for a U.S. senator (Arkin), tries to find a willing ear but waffles once his boss steers him off the case. Streep plays the senior CIA official, who outsources nefarious torture with a pursed smile. The film systematically jumps locations from the Chicago home of the El-Ibrahimis to Washington, D.C., to North Africa, where, in addition to Freeman's plight, we're also privy to the romance of the daughter (Oukach) of El-Ibrahimi's chief torturer (Naor). Unlike his much-lauded film Tsotsi about South African gang life, Hood takes on too many characters in Rendition and leaves them all wanting. Witherspoon suffers undo pressure to make her good-wife dialogue meaningful; however, Streep and Arkin, as always, deliver masterful snippets of characterizations. The script by Kelley Sane is full of outrage but not enough depth. As Gyllenhaal's CIA wonk discovers, it can be awfully perplexing to be a free man.