Friday, January 04, 2008

RENDITION: Rights Vs Security

RENDITION (political drama)

Cast: Reese Witherspoon (pic), Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Alan Arkin, Meryl Streep and Omar Metwally
Director: Gavin Hood

Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? The title refers to the ‘handing over’ of persons or property to from one jurisdiction to another. However, in this case, it is about the transfer of suspects from US soil to another country to facilitate torture of the suspects for information. This practice, also known as "extraordinary rendition," was authorised by the Clinton administration. After 9/11, there is reason to believe that the Bush administration uses it frequently in its War on Terror. Thus “Rendition” treads into the minefield of debate over American Constitutional Rights versus National Security, offering no clear-cut verdict to its audience…

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-born American chemical engineer, is ‘abducted’ by the CIA while on a flight home to Chicago from a conference in South Africa. He is taken to a country in the Middle East where he is tortured for information by police chief Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor) about a suicide bombing that killed dozens of people, including a CIA agent. It is learnt that Anwar’s cell phone received calls from a terrorist, or from someone with the same name.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, his heavily pregnant wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon), and young son wait in vain for his arrival. When he fails to show up, Isabella goes through a bureaucratic nightmare in Washington, seeking the help of her college friend Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard) to get to a CIA boss (Meryl Streep) for news of her husband.

Also involved in the questioning of Anwar is CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) who soon becomes concerned that Anwar may be innocent – and that if you torture a man long enough, he may just tell you what you want to hear. However, expert torturer Abasi believes otherwise. “Just keep beating your wife, if you don’t know why, she does,” he says.

Abasi also has a personal problem on his hands. A subplot, told in flashbacks, reveals that his daughter Fatima (Zineb Oukach) is involved with a young terrorist named Khalid (Moa Khouas) and has run away from home…

HITS & MISSES: With three angles of the story running simultaneously, “Rendition” is a riveting drama that offers many surprises along the way. The most interesting is the insight into Khalid’s indoctrination into the terrorist group, complete with details on how a suicide bomb works. The torture scenes can be dreadful and dreary, keeping us wondering about Anwar’s claims of innocence, while we empathise with Isabella’s plight in trying to trace her hubby.

Director Gavin Hood’s filming structure, slipping flashbacks of the bombing plans into the main story flow, can be confusing at times but audiences should be able to complete the jigsaw puzzle once the pieces are all in place. Hood has an accomplished cast the likes of Streep, Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal but the note-worthy performances are provided by second-stringers like Naor and Oukach. Streep, who has a forgettable outing here, is obviously used for her box-office pull, while Witherspoon utilises her steely resolve to the max here. Gyllenhaal is captivating enough as the CIA agent stricken by his conscience, and Alan Arkin is compatible in a minor role as Alan’s boss, Senator Hawkins.

I am rather glad that the scripters have left the question of Anwar’s innocence open to debate – just as they have left open the controversy about ‘extraordinary renditions’ and Constitutional Rights versus National Security. This allows the audience to consider the merits of both sides in the light of increasing incidents of suicide bombings all over the world. After all, film-makers need not have to provide answers to moral questions such as these. It is enough that they provoke thought and provide entertainment.

THE LOWDOWN: "Rendition" is the first of two movies about the plight of pregnant wives dealing with missing husbands. The other is "A Mighty Heart" which has Angelina Jolie as Marianne Pearl in the docudrama about the kidnap of journalist Daniel Pearl.


At 12:27 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you just gave away the twist in the story! what's wrong with you???


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