random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

REEL REVIEW: Rendition (2007) **1/2

Rendition (2007) poster

R for torture/violence and language.
2 hrs. & 2 min.

written by: Kelley Sane
produced by: Steve Gollin
directed by: Gavin Hood

2007 just might be the year of a cinematic political siege. With all the movies released this year about the war on Iraq, politics post-9/11 as well as the physical and psychological after effects, you'd think that movie studios are satisfying audience demand for such films. Unfortunately, for these films, the box office results are showing that's not the case. People are not flocking to movies like "A Mighty Heart", "The Kingdom" or "In the Valley of Elah" and it doesn't matter what critics say about them. They just aren't finding audience like a Tyler Perry movie or "The Game Plan" is. Maybe it's due to the incessant barrage of war and politics the media serve viewers and readers, that make them opt for films that will have more of an escapism feel.

Since I don't pay much attention to 24/7 news channels and only vaguely cover news blurbs about the war and the politics related to it, these kind of movies rouse my curiosity. I'd much rather see a dramatization of something that is either inspired or based on true events then be bludgeoned with media scare tactics and body counts. I'd rather know the human element of all this senseless violence and confusion instead of the typical pie charts and statistics that are given. So, these movies don't bother me as they do some. The problem is with these (at times) message movies is that they either tend to be a little heavy-handed or labeled liberal agitprop.

That's the dilemma here with Award-winning, South African film director Gavin Hood's new film "Rendition". It's a well-enough made film that at times does force some themes but it at least the topic is something I haven't seen focused on before, that being the case of "extraordinary renditions", in which the CIA has permission to extradite those thought to be involved in terrorism without needing any sort of warrant. This started under Clinton's reign and has supposedly gotten out-of-hand under Bush after 9/11. I don't proclaim to be a political expert but that's at least what I gathered from the film.

The film uses the similar storytelling method as Crash, Traffic and Syriana which includes a number of seemingly disparate stories converging to show how small a world it truly is. Much of the story centers around a suicide bombing in North Africa, a deadly blast might immediately draw comparisons to "The Kingdom", although that was based on actual events and is a much stronger film in the way it deals with how the U.S. government deals with terrorists. So, sure we've seen an exploding market before but is it really something we've become desensitized to?

Because of this, Egyptian chemist Anwar El-Ibrahami (Omar Metwally), mysteriously disappears when the CIA removes him from his flight home from a conference in Cape Town. After they conveniently remove him from the flight records, he is interrogated and prohibited a phone call home. They deport him back to North Africa (Egypt, it seems) where he's imprisoned, stripped naked and tortured since he's suspected of having collaborated with the terrorists responsible. Basically, the case against him revolves around some random phone calls made from the suspected terrorist to Anwar's cellphone. Of course, they use extreme measures in order to find out details about these calls and of course Anwar has no idea why the calls are traced to his cell.

Reese Witherspoon in New Line Cinema's Rendition
Meanwhile, his pregnant wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) and 6-year-old boy back at home in Chicago has no idea what happened to him.Isabella contacts Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard) an old friend (and possibly former flame) in Washington who works for a high-powered Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin) who might be able to unlock the mystery behind Anwar's disappearance. Typically, they both are hesitant about damaging their own image and career by supporting someone potentially with roots to terrorists.

CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) was in a vehicle in the Egyptian market when it exploded and say his supervisor die next to him. He's now reported to Lee Mayer ca(J.K. Simmons) the dead guy's superior, who is reported to CIA Head, Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep), she's the one who authorized Anwars' rendition. Freeman is ordered to supervise the "questioning" of Anwar by an Egyptian official named Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor). But, there's another concurrent story, involving Fawal's daughter, Fatima (Zineb Oukach), who is caught up in a forbidden love story with Khaild (Moa Khouas), a passionate young boy who has some deadly secrets. I found this story the most interesting for some reason. It just seemed like these two young people had no one to turn to, no one on their side and I kept on wondering where their desperate decisions would lead them.

Igal Naor in New Line Cinema's Rendition

There are valid reasons for a movie like this to exist. It's sobering to see how my government can justify torturing "suspects" under the justification of a post 9/11 world. I kept on wondering who the terrorist really is in this storyline and for that, maybe the film did succeed. Still, the script by Kelley Sane isn't particularly impressive or convincing, everything seems to fall into place. Hood has made a good-looking second film and at times it is downright terrifying but it does wind up being a little predictable and redundant.

Despite having a superstar cast who for the most part deliver the goods. The weakest being Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal, neither of which really feel like they're in the right movie Gyllenhaal just feels miscast as a CIA analyst, he looks way too young and spends much of the film brooding or overseeing the torture without saying much or doing anything significant. He just broods. Witherspoon also seems way too young for her role, and she overcompensates with over-dramatic hysterics. Sure, her role is a lil harder as she is relegated to playing the worried wife on the phone or sitting in CIA waiting rooms. Streep and Arkin come in and do the bang-up jobs that you'd expect and even Sarsgaard does a decent job. There's just nothing really riveting here from the "known" talent.

They're just not nearly as not nearly as convincing as their Mideast counterparts. The two young unknown actors who play the desperate young lovers really do standout the most in the film. Metwally as the captured Anwar, gives a heart-wrenching performance as the tortured family man who feels hopeless. Just as strong is Naor as the man doing the torturing. At first he comes across as a poor man's Dr. Evil, but once his family life is shown we see the layers of his character and maybe why he is as hard as he is.

The "surprise twist" ending that I won't give away explains the important part the young lovers play in the story, but by that point--over an hour and 45 minutes into the movie--it starts to create way too many questions and possible flaws in the film's temporal logic, and it does very little to make up for some of the bland storytelling leading up to it.I haven't seen Hood's Oscar-winning last movie "Tsotsi" but I've been meaning to. It too succeeded so well with the use of non-actors, it's surprising he didn't try to search out unknown American talent rather than going with big names who tend to derail the story.

I knew nothing of the term "rendition" before this movie. I always thought of it as a musical term. So, the movie succeeded in educating me but it did lose me after a while due to it's miscasting. Regardless, I'd hate to see this movie ignored due to it's subject matter but I understand if some may feel a little "message fatigue". Films have come a long way in capturing current events. It took forever to release movies that really dealt with Vietnam. Movies that weren't glossing any reality over or hiding behind whatever propaganda was being sold. I have no problem with movies covering current events, a good story told well still makes a good movie. These topics aren't "too soon" or controversial to me, but just a reflection of how we need to try and understand what's going on in the world today.

Peter Sarsgaard , director Gavin Hood and Meryl Streep on the set of New Line Cinema's Rendition

The Skinny:

  • The movie was filmed in Anaheim, California at the Anaheim Convention Center, Cape Town, South Africa, Los Angeles, California, Marrakech, Morocco, and Washington DC.
  • The technical advisor for the film was ex-CIA Robert Baer, whose 2003 expose See No Evil inspired 2005's Syriana. Baer was reportedly the basis for the character played by George Clooney, who won an Oscar for his performance.
  • Director Gavin Hood's next film project is the X-Men spin-off "Wolverine" with Hugh Jackman back in the role that made him famous. It may seem an odd choice and that's why Hood was recently asked why he chose it.
  • There's also a 2007 movie called "Extraordinary Rendition" directed by Jim Threapleton and starring Omar Berdouni and Andy Serkis. The film was premiered at the Locarno Film Festival, Switzerland on August 8, 2007 and at the Edinburgh Film Festival on August 21, 2007 but is still awaiting a full commercial release.
  • An article published in the December 5, 2005, Washington Post reported that the CIA's Inspector General was investigating what it calls erroneous renditions.The term appears to refer to cases in which innocent people were subjected to extraordinary rendition.
  • Khalid El-Masri is the most well-known person who is believed to have been subjected to the process of "extraordinary rendition," as a result of mistaken identity. Laid Saidi, an Algerian detained and tortured along with El-Masri, was apprehended apparently because of a taped telephone conversation in which the word tirat, meaning "tires" in Arabic, was mistaken for the word tairat, meaning "airplanes."

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