Pros: Great acting, well written and directed concerning a crucial issue of our times
How many times have we heard our fearless leaders make the claim that "The United States does not torture people." Can't count the number of times? Well, we hear that statement once more in "Rendition" as spoken by a C.I.A. official in charge of getting information from "suspected" terrorists. No, we don't torture people in the United States. We export them to other countries where torture is the norm. How noble of us.
I've read one "professional review" by Todd McCarthy of Variety that roundly criticizes "Rendition" as an extremely dull movie. On a scale of five stars, he gives the film one star. We must have been watching a different movie or maybe McCarthy slept through the film because I found the movie to be an excellent study of a horrendous policy.
Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally-"Munich") is an Egyptian by birth but he's lived in the U.S. for 20 of his 34 years. He's a graduate of N.Y.U. with a degree in chemistry and he travels the world giving seminars on scientifific studies. Anwar is married to Isabella Fields-Ibrahimi (Reese Witherspoon-"Walk The Line", "Election") and the couple have one son and a baby on the way as the film opens.
Interspersed with scenes from the life of the El-Ibrahimi family are scenes from North Africa where we meet a C.I.A. analyst named Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal-"Brokeback Mountain", "Donnie Darko", "Jarhead") who is welcoming a new agent to the city. That welcome is destroyed when a suicide bomber sets off an explosion which kills the new agent. A terrorist group takes credit for the horrific bombing.
Back in the U.S., C.I.A. official Lee Mayer (J.K. Simmons-"The Closer", "Oz") informs his superior in the agency, Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep-"Sophie's Choice", "Kramer v. Kramer") that information has been gathered that Anwar El-Ibrahimi has received phone calls from the leader of the aforementioned terrorist group.
Anwar is detained, spirited off to North Africa and tortured for several days without being told what he has been charged with and with no other rights normally given to prisoners. His chief interrogator is Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor) who literally stops at nothing to get to the "truth".
While all of this action is going on, we also meet the beautiful daughter of Abasi Fawal, Fatima (Zineb Oukach) who unknowingly is involved with Klalid (Moe Khouas) who is a member of the terrorist group.
Isabella El-Ibrahimi tries to get an old friend, Alan Smith (Peter Sarsguaard-"Kinsey") who works for her state's Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin-"Little Miss Sunshine") to intervene into her husband's disappearance. Not surprisingly, she gets nowhere in that pursuit.
With this many characters and subplots going on, the movie jumps from one viewpoint to another but it is never confusing.
WHY I REALLY LIKED THE FILM
Even though the film has such a wide array of stories and characters, Director Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi") and screenwriter Kelley Sane have fashioned a thoroughly believable scenario that has the feel of a fast-moving documentary. While I feel that the ultimate opinions of the director and screenwriter are fairly obvious when it comes to the use of torture, I also feel that the opposing view (that torture is necessary in this world) is given its due.
Because of the large number of characters, only a few of the actors really get much screen time. Ms. Streep does a fine job as always as the cold, calculating government official who thinks it's o.k. to use any means necessary to obtain information. But, her role is fairly small.
Ditto for Reese Witherspoon who does appear more than Streep but is not necessarily the primary character. She does a fine job though in a truly serious, sympathetic role.
The actor who has the biggest role is Omar Metwally who portrays the victim of the torture. While his part is naturally a central part of the film, Metwally's acting is never overly melodramatic. Almost as important character is his interrogator, Abasi Fawal portrayed with chilling persistence and cruelty by Mr. Naor.
In the "professional" review I read, Jake Gyllenhaal is described as "an exceptionally dreary fellow". Again, I feel as though I was watching a different film from that reviewer. Gyllenhaal portrays an analyst who is forced into the role of field agent overseeing the torture of a fellow human being. Naturally, he's not exactly bouncing with joy throughout the movie.
The two young lovers in the film, Ms. Oukach and Moe Khouas also do an excellent job of acting with the right amount of passion and indignation
Cinematographer Dion Beebe continues an impressive career (previous movies include "Memoirs of a Geissha", "Chicago) with a very gritty look at the North African location for much of the film. Indeed all visual aspects of the film command attention.
Finally, although the primary issue in the film is talked about quite frequently, there have been very few movies that have tackled this topic so graphically.
As a final note, I want mention that I heard a former member of the C.I.A. interviewed about this film on NPR. His assessments of the film and of the "rendition" program itself were quite chilling to me. Asked if it had been the practice of the United States to "send foreign nationals abroad to be tortured" he answered with an almost glib "Sure."
I believe this film shows that the technique of torture is not only contrary to what we believe in this country, but that it is also ineffectual in obtaining information.