Friday, October 19, 2007


Exporting Torture

It’s Oscar season. That time toward the end of the year when the studios roll out their “serious” films that have a better chance at snagging a gold statuette than pure popcorn fare. These often include movies with a political bend, which will hopefully strike a chord and get people talking. Rendition is a film that perfectly fits into the “Hey Academy--look at me!” category. It’s got big stars and a political axe to grind. The good news is that it’s effective and well made without targeting a specific individual or party. The bad news is it could have been fantastic.

After a suicide bomber kills an American field operative in North Africa, authorities scramble to find those responsible. Egyptian-born U.S. resident Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is detained and questioned after flying home from overseas. Despite his having no knowledge of the events in question, he is still suspected by government official Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep). She enacts “Extraordinary Rendition” which allows terror suspects to be sent out of the country for more persuasive information extraction, sans their human rights. When Anwar never shows up at the airport his American wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) becomes very concerned, especially when his name is missing from the passenger manifest.

Rendition has several different storylines that run concurrently, but to it’s credit, doesn’t confuse (think Syriana-lite). The script by Kelley Sane is concise and efficient, suspenseful and informative. Things move along at a good clip and are never boring. The film contains many interesting characters, but none are fully developed the way they should be. They are all passengers on this train that never stops, but keeps chugging on to its conclusion.

There are a lot of good actors involved here, and they all do well, despite being given fairly little to work with. Besides those mentioned, we get Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac) as the one who chooses himself to replace his murdered colleague and supervise the torture of El-Ibrahimi. Peter Sarsgaard (Year of the Dog) is his usually excellent self as aide Alan Smith who wants to help old friend Isabella without jeopardizing his political career. There is a great exchange at a party between Whitman and Smith, where Streep and Sarsgaard go at each other with restrained intensity. It’s a great actors moment, and they both make the most of it.

The story itself is very disturbing (torture under the guise of Homeland Security), but it doesn’t repel. These scenes are powerful, but this isn’t Schindler’s List. This is a movie that wants to express it’s message without forcing you to close your eyes. Some may call this a cop out, but I think it’s better to make a movie that can reach more audience members than one that only a few will see due to the hardcore violence.

Rendition is a sound movie that really pushes no envelopes to make it great. It tells a solid story of wrongs and those who think they are right, no matter what the impact on a select few. One theme in the film is that no amount of political clout has more power than that of an individual on the inside who can save the day with personal sacrifice. It’s a good message, and this is a good movie.

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