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Starring: Omar Metwally, Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep

Directed by: Gavin Hood

Produced by: Steve Golin, Marcus Viscidi

Written by: Kelley Sane
Distributor: New Line Cinema


"The thing that gets under my skin most about George W. [Bush] is his intention to install fear in people […] this government is all about terror alerts and scaring us at airports. We're changing the Constitution out of fear. We spend all our time looking up each other's dresses. Fear's the only issue the Republican Party has. Vote for them, or the terrorists will win. That's not what Reagan was about. I hate to think about our soldiers over in Iraq fighting for a country that's slipping away." –Merle Haggard, country musician, in an interview with Time magazine.

     Haggard’s line of thinking in the above quote has achieved a widespread prominence in today’s American Society. A large portion of Americans, it seems, have been led to believe that their civil liberties are constantly being violated in the name of fighting the “façade” that is a terrorist enemy. The idea that the threat of the Islamo-Nazism is being “overplayed” by the Bush Administration is all too commonly held among the citizens of this country, especially those who carry liberal political beliefs. Extremists will even tell you that they view Bush—not bin Laden, not Ahmadinejad, not Chavez—as the world’s most dangerous terrorist.

     With movies like Rendition being released, it’s no wonder that such a worrisomely large percentage of the American Population feels this way. If the Bush Administration should be questioned (or even impeached, as some suggest) for instilling “fear” in the American People, then the minds behind this film should be tried for treason. (Okay – I’m being facetious here, but I want to exaggerate just how hypocritical their views are.) Rendition stretches the truth in order to promote a political agenda to an absolutely ridiculous extent, so falsely impassioned that it never stops to realize how unbelievably contrived a movie it becomes in the process.

     The film’s title references a practice developed by the Clinton Administration and used by the Bush Administration in order to allow for the forceful interrogation suspected terrorists. An extreme rendition takes place when the United States government moves said suspect to another country in order to, as the movie suggests, torture them in the hope that they will elicit classified information.

     Instead of functioning as a riveting look at the Bush Administration’s supposed use of torture (a practice that it unequivocally denies), Rendition fudges facts to create a narrative that simply doesn’t hold water. In fact, movie doesn’t say a whole lot more than “The current U.S. Government is really big and really bad!”

     The suspect being tortured here is Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an innocent Egyptian national (but a 20+ year-resident of the United States and a graduate of NYU engineering school) who is taken into U.S. custody and subjected to a rendition by the CIA. Anwar is assumed to have been involved in the making of a bomb by an African terrorist organization because of phone calls that he received from a number once associated with the group’s leader. Even when the American officer in charge of Anwar’s torture, Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), tells Washington that he is convinced that Anwar is not guilty and that the telephone calls were made by a second-hand owner of the number in question, Anwar is not released.

      There are two important facts about the process of an extreme rendition that director Hood and writer Kelley Sane patently ignore. Firstly, the reason that renditions are performed in other countries is so that suspects can be tried for their crimes in their native land. Hood and Sane pretend as though the U.S. Government conducts the practice on foreign soil so that it can get away with torture, which is simply not true. Secondly, the writer and director suggest that renditions are performed on long-time residents of the United States when, in fact, the practice is reserved almost exclusively for suspected terrorists that have been in the country for limited amounts of time. Renditions are never conducted on American citizens, and rarely (if at all) performed on residents of the country that are as established as Anwar. The film is not based on any specific case and, as a result, sees no problem in stretching credibility in order to make its point.

     As if the central storyline of the film involving Anwar wasn’t ridiculous enough, there is also a hearty abundance of subplots in Rendition that allow the viewer to further roll their eyes at the screen. The most prominent among these involves Anwar’s pregnant (yes, they went there) wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon), who slowly pieces together what the government has done to her husband. She pursues the high-ranking official in charge of Anwar’s disappearance, Corrinne Whitman (Meryl Streep), with the help of an old boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) who now works for a respected senator (Alan Arkin). All the while, the viewer’s attention also shifts back in time to witness the real history behind the detonated-bomb that caused Anwar’s imprisonment. (Of course, these passages come across in such a muddled way that I barely realized the film’s narrative structure was not linear, as I had previously assumed, by the time that all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together.)

     There is some talent behind Rendition, however, that deserves recognition. Director Hood helmed 2004’s wonderful Tsotsi, and does assemble the film with a considerable amount of slickness and skill despite its overall ridiculousness and its aforementioned confusing plot-structure. In addition, the members of the cast deliver almost uniformly excellent performances, even if they are essentially pieces of propaganda. (The work of Witherspoon, Sarsgaard, and Arkin is especially memorable.) It’s actually somewhat of a miracle that these actors come off as authentically as they do given the cartoonish nature of the work on the whole.  It’s a shame that such a gifted cast and crew were so consumed by their own half-baked left-wing vision of U.S. Foreign Policy that they decided to participate in the making of Rendition. Had this been any other movie, their many talents would’ve been put to better use. As it is, Rendition is a painfully deluded take on a crucial time in World History.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 10.28.2007

Screened on: 10.20.2007 at the Krikorian Vista Metroplex 15 in Vista, CA.


Rendition is rated R and runs 122 minutes.

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