out of Five
Running time: 120
Average thriller with strong performances, though it ought to hit us harder than it does.
What's it all about?
Reese Witherspoon plays Isabella, the pregnant wife of Egyptian-born scientist Anwar (Omar Metwally), who's grabbed by US agents on his way home from a conference in Cape Town. Suspected of terrorism, Anwar is flown to North Africa on the orders of US senator (Meryl Streep) and interrogated by local security chief Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor), who isn't above using torture to get the information he needs.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Douglas, the rookie CIA agent assigned to observe Fawal's interrogation when his superior is killed in the suicide bomb attack that Anwar is suspected of planning. Meanwhile, Isabella contacts an old boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) who works in Washington, in the hope that he can use his contacts to help her get some answers.
Gyllenhaal is excellent as the morally conflicted rookie and there's reliable support from Meryl Streep, while Reese Witherspoon does the best she can with a relatively underwritten role that doesn't rise much above righteous indignation. Naor is equally good as Fawal (who's also a family man) and there's an engaging sub-plot involving his daughter (Zineb Oukach) and her secret relationship with a young man (Moa Khouas).
South African director Gavin Hood (who made the award-winning Tsotse) orchestrates some impressive sequences, most notably the shockingly casual abduction sequence at the beginning. That said, there's also an editing trick that's meant to be clever but backfires slightly instead.
With rendition (the name given to the process of illegally extraditing
prisoners) now an acknowledged fact, it's surprising that the film doesn't make us as angry as it should. This is largely down to a simplistic script that doesn't feel the need to dig too deeply. Ironically, an almost identical low-budget English movie called Extraordinary Rendition does this much more effectively.
In short, Rendition is watchable enough thanks to decent direction and strong performances, but it lacks an emotional punch and it's hard not to wonder what a more politically-minded director might have made out of it.