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who cares? - Rendition

bomb terrors in Rendition

we know what you did, once upon a time... in Rendition

 
 
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Rendition
cast: Omar Metwally, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Peter Sarsgaard

director: Gavin Hood

118 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Like the Red Army, Hollywood always takes an age to get mobilised whenever there's a big political issue that is suitable for cinematic coverage. A charitable view of why this is would be that it takes a certain amount of time for scripts to be produced, funding to be secured and 'talent' to free themselves from busy schedules. A less charitable view is that nobody wants to watch a film criticising a popular war, but now that the occupation of Iraq, the 'war on terror', and George W. Bush's government are widely seen as discredited, everyone wants to see a film flattering their ego and confirming that all their moral qualms are so totally justified. Despite the phenomena of 'extraordinary rendition' (or out-sourced torture as it should be known) having been around for quite a while now, Hollywood has finally deigned to address the issue. However, while Gavin Hood's Rendition hits all the talking points and shows some directorial slickness, the film is pitched at such a facile level, with a morality so simplistic, that you can't help but feel patronised for watching it.

Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) lives in America with his wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon). However, when it turns out that his mobile phone records show that he has received phone calls from a known terrorist, he is abducted upon arriving on American soil and whisked off to 'north Africa' where he is tortured. Meanwhile, back home, his wife along with an ex-boyfriend turned senatorial aide (Peter Sarsgaard) try to get the CIA's head of rendition (Meryl Streep) to free him.

One of the most notable things about this film is its political naivety. In this film, all Americans are good liberal people who become right wing and unreasonable as a result of some emotional trauma. So a junior CIA man has his superior die in his arms following a suicide bombing and then happily sits stony-faced while someone is tortured in front of him. Similarly, the head of torture learns of the CIA agent's death and, despite having no reason for holding El-Ibrahimi has him put on the plane and tortured. The chief torturer is only doing the job in order to find his daughter. Even the senatorial aide only relinquishes his attempts to free his old girlfriend's husband after being given a tongue lashing by his boss the senator.

Clearly this is result of the writer Kelley Sane wanting the supporters of torture to appear more human but the result is a strange socio-political landscape that bears little relation to the real world. The CIA and American government don't arrange for people to be water-boarded because they're a bit upset, they do so because they believe that torture is not only a reliable means of obtaining information but one whose moral price is acceptable given the perceived risk of terrorist attack. To suggest otherwise is to fudge the issue and to miss the point. Similarly, once the senatorial aide gets a-hold of the issue, the senator gets nervous, worried about going to the press but what goes on in Guantanamo Bay has been known for years and there's no great public demand for it to stop. The same goes for water-boarding, and all of the other delicious things that are done in order to protect our liberties. The truth is that most people simply don't care. The problem with extraordinary rendition is not that it is part of some vast government conspiracy to keep us all in the dark, it's that our leaders know all about it but don't do anything about it, and the media and the people are quite happy to let them get on with it. One gets the impression that Hood thinks that if rendition were brought to the public's attention and all those involved got a good night's sleep then the practice would stop. Fat chance.

If this film had been made 10 years ago then it would have been genuinely interesting. As it is, it is merely a superficial retelling of what is known about rendition. So we get people being disappeared by the American government (check!), we have people being shipped off to countries with a more 'liberal' attitude towards torture (check!), we have the American government's terrorist monitoring system throw up a false positive (check!), and we have the fact that if you torture someone for long enough they'll tell you anything that you want to know (check!). The problem is that the film doesn't go any further or say anything more unsubstantial, it simply limits itself to stating the obvious, namely that extraordinary rendition goes on, that it's morally repugnant and that it's a completely useless means of gaining information. I can't help but ask: Yes... and?

The film's acting is broadly decent thanks to a solid cast but the characters are seriously underwritten meaning that they never rise above the level of broad caricatures including the worried wife, the rookie intelligence agents with moral doubts, the pragmatic politician and the quasi-sociopathic senior spy. However, having said all of this, it is not a bad film. Hood injects quite a bit of atmosphere and has a nice little time-slip twist in the tail, which is well done and is completely tangential to anything else in the film. Combine this with the decent acting and a well-meaning political bent and you've got the means of filling a couple of hours without too much trouble. Just do not expect a smart political thriller like Charlie Wilson's War or a genuinely insightful critique of American foreign policy like In The Valley Of Elah.
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