As I sat down to write my review of Gavin Hood s much-talked-about political thriller Rendition, I realized that I could use my critique of Robert Redford’s last film Lions for Lambs and it wouldn t make much of a difference.
Currently screening outside the competition of the Cairo International Film Festival, “Rendition has caused a considerable amount of controversy. First because of its subject matter – America s outsourcing of torture hubs to Africa and the Middle East – but more importantly, due to initial reports that the film is set primarily in Egypt with the country’s secret police standing for the torture agents.
To avoid upsetting any particular nation, Hood opted to locate two principle storylines of his film “somewhere in North Africa. Judging by the dialect of the North African characters as well as the setting, the film s main locale feels like a combination of Morocco and Algeria (the film was shot in Morocco).
Nothing in the film bears a connection to Egypt except for the nationality of one of its protagonists: half-Egyptian actor Omar Metwally from “Munich.
The film is divided into three separate but interconnected storylines taking place between the North African country and Washington. An Egyptian-born American chemical engineer named Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Metwally) is abducted by the CIA from Cape Town, South Africa following a suicide bombing that killed one of the agency s personnel in the same country.
Under authorization from the head of US intelligence (Meryl Streep), El-Ibrahimi is subjected to extraordinary rendition. This practice, authorized under the Clinton administration, refers to the transfer of suspected terrorists to countries known to torture detainees for information.
An idealistic, dozy-eyed CIA analyst (Jake Gyllenhaal) supervises what he describes as his “first torture.
In Washington, El-Ibrahimi s wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) resorts to her ex-boyfriend Allen (Peter Sarsgaard) – who s now the assistant of a powerful senator – to learn the whereabouts of her husband.
In another storyline, Fatima, the young daughter of torture hub chief of interrogation, is falling in love with a fellow student who may be a member of a terrorist group.
Hood, the South African native who directed the Oscar-winning Tsotsi in 2005, should be extolled and admired for attempting to bring such an imperative topic to the mainstream. His film is clearly earnest and there are several parts that entertain and enlighten.
Overall, much like Lambs, the film does not present anything revelatory or different from the hundreds of news items that have been reported by media around the world in the last four years.
The arguments, justifications and pre-held conventions characters like Streep hold are all too familiar and predictable.
What s most infuriating about the film is that it oversimplifies some of the thorniest issues of our modern history. We are living in the age of ambiguity – morally, politically, socially and religiously – and it is impossible to believe a film that categorizes everything in black and white; that points to one concrete source or ideology for every action; that does not even acknowledge the complexity of the very issues it tackles.
Despite Hood s astute and visually impressive direction, Rendition turns out to be an archetypal Hollywood film where good and evil battle it out.