Rendition (Gavin Hood, 2007)
Let's face it. We live in a world of terror and multiple storylines, which is probably why films like Stephen Gaghan's Syriana (2005) or Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel (2006) were made, released, and rewarded (questionably). Gavin Hood's Rendition is the latest addition to these so-called politically aware films. The film is seemingly protesting extraordinary rendition, a governmental action, which according to the film began during Clinton's watch and was made useful in Bush's war against terrorism, that allows intelligence agents to whisk away anybody suspected of having connections with terrorism to a farflung country for interrogation and presumably, torture.
The victim of rendition in the film is Egyptian national and green card holder Anwar El-Abrihimi (Omar Metwally), believed to be connected (by a series of calls connected to his cellular phone) to an explosion in a North African nation which killed one American agent. On his way home from a conference in South Africa, he was kidnapped by the CIA, causing his loving, persistent and very pregnant wife (Reese Witherspoon) to seek help from an old college flame (Peter Sarsgaard), personal aide of a senator (Alan Arkin). While the concerned wife is struggling to find the proper audience for her please, her husband is shipped to the North African country, stripped, tortured, and forced to answer the questions shouted at him by the police head (Abasi Awal) while Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), rookie agent who assumes the position of his deceased partner, observes the unsightly proceeding with a heavy conscience.
Hood, most famous for his Oscar-winning Tsotsi (2005), tries his hardest to humanize the issue, even throwing a sappy romance between a jihadist (Moa Khouas) and the police head's daughter (Zineb Oukach) as the centerpiece to the film. It flaunts trappings of pertinence (CIA head (an unremarkable Meryl Streep, predictably cold and dehumanized) orates about the thousands of Londoners alive because of the information derived from extraordinary rendition; the senator's aide replies citing the Constitution and due process; the aide and his experienced senator then succumb to inaction to protect their careers). Underneath all the artificial humanity and the overbearing emotionality is a question: Why exactly is this film relevant? My answer is that it simply is not.
Roger Ebert praises Rendition for "putting a human face on the practice" of extraordinary rendition. My problem with it is that the human face Ebert so fondly talks about is so black and white that we can accurately pinpoint the bad guys (the CIA head, the opportunistic politician and his shakable aide, the brainwashing jihad leaders who teach their supporters to shout slogans in orc fashion) and the good guys (the caring wife, the innocent victim of the rendition, the rookie agent whose heart is still capable of compassion). We all know that the methodical torture of an innocent guy is utter evil, especially one played by an actor who only looks slightly Arabic, probably to make him more palatable to racial profilers. Ever wondered how the film would be more relevant, more courageous, if there is hesitation to the captive's innocence, or if the cause of the explosion remained questionable and not attributed to the Muslim extremist's romantic quarrels with his girlfriend? Will extraordinary rendition still be regarded as a despicable method of procuring information when justice, morality, and common compassion have been blurred?
That's a different film altogether. Hood's Rendition is nothing more than an overly elaborate melodrama hiding behind a robe of currentness, righteousness, and self-importance. It fails to challenge us, fails to divide us, fails to question what we value more: traditional norms of due process and justice or the very human quality of wanting retribution accompanied by the prevention of future terror attacks. Too many failures, need I say more?