REVIEW: Rendition [2008]

“This is my first torture”

I was very willing to give Rendition the benefit of the doubt when it came to all the negative press I had read concerning it. Even about three-quarters of the way through, I still thought it was jumbled and a bit incoherent, but otherwise a solid tale reaching its conclusion. And then the bottom fell out. Not wanting to necessarily ruin the film for anyone, but the conclusion flips everything you held to be fact about what and when things have been happening on its head—for no particular reason whatsoever except to maybe tell the world, yeah I’m cool, and I know it. I love a good twist, I love a good ah-ha moment, but only when it is relevant to the story at hand. The complete misguidance on the part of the filmmakers serves no purpose on the overall tale, timelines didn’t need to be parallel and they didn’t need to be separated by a week. All the revelation did was destroy any merit I was about to give director Gavin Hood and screenwriter Kelley Sane, which may be a good thing, because looking back, it wasn’t really as solid a movie as I initially was going to blindly give it credit for.

It is an admirable thing to try and get the term rendition out into the film-going public’s consciousness, but it needed a story that delved deeper into the connotations and politics involved, rather than gloss over those issues for a tale of a woman in distress over her husband’s disappearance and the angst-filled rebellion of a daughter against her “interrogator” father. I understand that the bottom-line film attendee needs a human quality to grasp onto and for that reason I don’t fault it for going that route. My only qualm is that we don’t get enough of what the title says we should be getting. Instead we are shown numerous plotlines, all confusingly brought to the forefront before being sent back into the nether regions of our consciousness, never to be returned to. So much is going on that you forget what you are supposed to be caring for, the wife? the interrogator? the CIA agent? the victim? the senator? the Middle Eastern daughter and her zealot boyfriend? At the end I really just gave up and let the film take me where it would, which ended up being someone totally different than what it first laid out.

Everything that occurs happens as the result of a bomb explosion. This bomb is at the center of every story thread and finally ends up being so innocuous that you can’t believe how huge the waves it spread were. The old butterfly wings flapping quote is in full effect, because one boy’s mission for revenge ends up destroying the lives of so many. Whether by death, destruction, physical and emotional abuse, or career suicide; no one really escapes unscathed. However, at the end of the day, only the story about the man who has been excised to Egypt for torture is really interesting. We are led to believe he is unequivocally innocent from the start, yet he is waterboarded, electrocuted, etc. in order to extract any information he might have. When those in power include a man with no compassion or reason to stop until something is spilled, (whether true or not), and an observer without the guts to partake or stop it, the situation lends itself some intrigue as to how it could possibly end. The three actors involved all are the best parts of the film and prove once more that the movie should have concerned itself with them for the entirety.

I don’t want to belittle people like Reese Witherspoon, (the victim’s wife), or her Senate employed ex, played by Peter Sarsgaard, because they actual do a good job with what they are given. Even Meryl Streep, her kooky accent, and Alan Arkin don’t detract too much. However, it is the trio of Jake Gyllenhaal’s CIA agent, Yigal Naor’s interrogator, and Omar Metwally’s victim that truly shine. Naor is brilliant as the Egyptian trying to stay sharp as a razor during working hours yet compassionate and worry-filled as a father attempting to locate his daughter. This man is brutal, but he is because that is what his occupation calls for and why he is relied upon to find answers. Metwally never gives a false second during the pain and suffering inflicted upon him. Whether he is lying or truly knows nothing about the terrorist who has been calling his cell phone, we totally buy into his plight and desperately wait to see how the situation turns out. As for Gyllenhaal, someone who seems to have one performance recycled throughout his career with varying degrees of success, he finds a part that suits him. The demons entering his soul throughout the ordeal he is forced to be a part of wear on his body and mind, causing both ambivalence and a need to intervene. The two feelings wrestle with each other until he makes a final decision, and his stoic, boyish demeanor suit that battle perfectly.

It is just too bad that the one plotline working never finds itself as the main focal point, despite being the namesake of the film. With all the clutter around the edges, we as an audience get bounced around too much, lulled into a sense of time and sequence, and then slapped in the face as it all unravels in more of a laugh on us then a, “bet you didn’t see that coming.” I felt cheated and unfortunately that is the lasting effect I have taken from the movie. Had it been more straightforward I might have enjoyed myself more, but as is, one can still take some positives from the severely flawed whole.

Rendition 4/10 | ★ ½

[1] Reese Witherspoon (left) stars as “Isabella Fields El-Ibrahim” and Peter Sarsgaard (right) stars as “Alan Smith” in New Line Cinema’s release of Gavin Hood’s RENDITION. Photo Credit: Sam Emerson
[2] Jake Gyllenhaal stars as “Douglas Freeman” in New Line Cinema’s release of Gavin Hood’s RENDITION. Photo Credit: Sam Emerson


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