Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
US Rating: R - Torture/Violence, Language
Film Length: 122 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2:35.1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Stereo Surround Sound
Subtitles: Optional English and Spanish
The Film - out of
Films that deal with the Iraq war and terrorism, either directly or indirectly, have received quite the cold shoulder from cinemagoers. I don’t necessarily think it is an indictment on the quality of all of the movies, but rather a symptom of a movie going public that has no space left in its mind for topics as serious, painful and divisive as these.
Rendition, like many other films that cover these themes, has a very impressive cast. The story deals with the policy of Rendition, the ability of the federal government to remove a subject from US soil to neutral grounds, where they can be interrogated; existing in a state of limbo for the purpose of protecting national interests and security. The use of Rendition was instituted under President Clinton but did not become a matter of controversy until after the horrific events of 9/11 – and the war on terror.
In the film, a man, Anwar El-Ibrahimi, mysteriously disappears on a flight from North Africa to the United States. His wife Isabelle, played by Reese Witherspoon must begin an effort to uncover what happed to him; fighting obfuscation and deceit from those in power. The man has been subjected to rendition, removed from US soil to a territory that allows for ‘legal’ methods of interrogation and torture that would be disallowed on US soil. A relatively new agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, Douglass Freemen (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been assigned as the official observer, monitoring the ‘questioning’ of a suspected terrorist. The suspect’s abduction followed a bomb attack in a part of North Africa (where he was not) that killed many, including an American CIA agent, a man in the car with Freeman when the bomb went off. The bomb was intended for Abasi Fawal (Yigal Naor), a powerful local who now charged with the interrogation of the suspect.
The weaving and intertwining of the individual stories from this ensemble cast adds an intelligent layering to what, despite the topical and engaging subject matter, is only a slightly above average thriller.
The film maintains a dramatic tone, keeping an air of tension about each character’s story that works on some levels, but it misses an opportunity to be great. There are great moments in the film, moments where we get to see more than the standard caricatures of good and evil, where the viciousness of violence’s angry cycle is explored, but never evenly enough. In particular, Jake Gyllenhaal’s CIA character seems to lack any real motivational dimension. His character is, I believe, intended to represent the audience, walking into the situation with an ‘ends justifying the means’ idea but soon losing trust in the means and methods being undertaken. And despite Jake being a fine actor, the character has almost no depth – merely existing in the moment, reacting to the emotionally charged and difficult things he witnesses and not being able to reconcile any further, the tactics being used on that man.
Meryl Streep plays Corinne Whitman, the authority in the Senate who approved the taking of Anwar with a simple and stern simplicity. Her continued support of the scheme to pull information from a suspect put her at odds with Isabelle, her senate aid friend Alan Smith (Peters Sarsgaard) and eventually the CIA agent overseeing the interrogation. Omar Metwally, playing the isolated and tortured man is just excellent – a difficult role but he is completely believable.
The film is quite somber and intense but with questionable subtlety at times. It wants to be an expose of the practice of rendition, but it seems to forget that such information has been surfaced, discussed and presented to the public before and, for all intents and purposes, public outcry was muted. That may be because it was accompanied by a series of disturbing rumors and revelations, or perhaps because any public in fear can accept and rationalize many disturbing things. The length to which the act of rendition has been used and it has mutated is distressing, but no longer shocking. There are two sides to this conversation, neither bad; neither without a basis in some form of reason, but the conversation is never had within the film. I’ll admit, I abhor the practice as presented, but I also understand how a society, how a government can reason itself onto that path. It does not make it right, it does not mean it should not be protested, but without recognizing the opposing impetus, it fails.
New Line Home Entertainment brings us Rendition with its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in anamorphic widescreen. A very nice image, complete with superb details in the close-ups and great contrasts in the aesthetic choice of balancing dark and shadowy scenes with the plentiful bright exterior shots.
Presented with both an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and stereo surround sound options, Rendition sounds great. The deep bass that comes from the perfectly suited score by Paul Hepker & Mark Kilian resonates profoundly at times. The café explosion also rips into the sub-woofer with real energy. Dialogue is clear and the somewhat ethereal quality to the overall ambient tone of the film is very good.
Outlawed Documentary - (27:38) – The inclusion of this short documentary adds a fascinating and scary dimension to the discussion raised by the film. With an introduction by Rendition director Gavin Hood, this piece of film has interviews with people actually tortured during interrogation. It is disturbing, powerful and infuriating. A great companion piece to the film.
”Intersections: The Making of Rendition” - (30:05) – A great behind the scenes special feature. The ‘fly on the wall’ feel at times allows us to peer at the process of bringing Rendition to the screen; from capturing DC in a different way to creating the intense explosion sequence. Very informative.
5 Deleted Scenes including an Alternate Ending - (18:16) – These five scenes, available with optional commentary by director Gavin Hood. Most are concerned with a discarded plot thread involving Agent Freeman having suspicions of his girlfriend. Good but nothing extraordinary.
Director Commentary – An enjoyable commentary track as director Hood provides much information about the set up and delivery of scenes. He also discusses the performances by the ensemble cast, the intent behind making this film and the difficult subject have a real emotional resonance.
Theatrical Trailer –
Sneak Peeks – Trailers for Pride & Glory, Black August, In The Valley of Elah and Pu 239
Rendition has a serious point to make; a serious sentiment to share, but obscures that idea with too hard a pursuit in sharing its side. The reported unreliability of information obtained from torture becomes the way it raises the hand to question the tactic and the way it provides the audience a way to see the terrifying outcome on the individual.
I can’t say this isn’t a good movie, because it is an important attempt at being a part of the conversation. It has strong performances, a fine set of artistic talent behind the camera, providing the score and a strong script. But the story pieces don’t seem to fit together particularly well.
Films like Rendition should be part of society’s continuing examination of the policies and actions of itself and its government. But to be vital parts, they need to be more balanced, more fluid and more thorough than Rendition manages to be.