Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review - Rendition

Rendition - U.S., 2007

Gavin Hood’s Rendition has a lot going for it. It tells a story relevant to our time, has an incredibly talented cast, and has all of the necessary elements – family, devotion, change - for an effective drama. That it only partly works is a bit of a surprise then. The film tells the story of Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), a devoted family man with a successful career. Anwar is suspected of being involved in a terrorist attack that takes place in northern Africa while he is in South Africa attending a conference. After being illegally seized before re-entering the United States, he is questioned extensively about his supposed connected to the terrorists who committed the attack. He denies such a connection exists, and his story checks out, but that doesn’t prevent him from being sent to face further questioning in a country not known for abiding by internationally accepted notions of human rights and unlawful prisoner abuse. The film co-stars Reese Witherspoon as Omar’s wife and Jake Gyllenhaal as Anwar’s only potential ally, an agent named Douglas Freeman. Meryl Street also makes an appearance in the film as Connie Whitman, the person who is ultimately responsible for Anwar’s plight.

Rendition, likes many films these days, contains multiple storylines, each of which are interesting, although some only mildly so. Where the film goes wrong, in my opinion, is in its relentless attempt to make each of the characters sympathetic figures, when what the film may have benefited from was a strong, menacing villain. In Rendition, even the man leading Anwar’s mistreatment is presented as someone we should feel for. Connie Whitman would be another likely villain, but while we may dislike the decisions she makes – as well as the seemingly callous way she dismisses people’s concern for Anwar – her decisions are cloaked in the fear and paranoia that the September 11th attacks evoked, and therefore, the film appears to be passing on assigning her too much blame. Instead, the villain of the film is a group that hides in the shadows for most of the movie, only peaking out long enough to prey on the mental anguish of those who have lost loved ones and turn their conflicted feelings into weapons of destruction. In Syriana, this technique worked very well. This time around, I felt it wasn’t enough.

The film’s other problem has to do with the way it presents Anwar’s story. From the very beginning of the story, it is clear that he is innocent, and to me, this is the wrong approach. Just imagine how different the film would have been if we watched his interrogations, saw the way he was treated, and weren’t sure of his innocence. To me, this would have created a degree of suspense and involvement that Rendition unfortunately lacks. It also might have made the film’s ending more of a surprise instead of being something that viewers will see coming a mile away. Rendition is watchable, but not nearly the film it could have been. (on DVD)

2 and a half stars

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