A falsely imprisoned husband, his beleaguered wife and a man who can bring them back together are well-worn characters of Hollywood political thrillers. Yet here they are once more for Rendition, a film putting them to use to criticise the US government’s methods for finding and interrogating suspected terrorists. Current and contentious Rendition may be, but entertaining and suspenseful it is not.
Extraordinary rendition is the term used when a terrorist suspect is captured and transported to their home country to gather intelligence from them or putting them to trial. Since the 9/11 attacks there has been suggestions extraordinary rendition is being used against innocent victims; in Rendition this applies to Egyptian-born chemical engineer Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Metwally).
After a suicide bombing in the Middle East, El-Ibrahimi disappears from a flight on his way back to the US from South Africa. While his American-born wife (Witherspoon) desperately tries to find out where he is by enlisting the help of her Senator friend Alan Smith (Sarsgaard), rookie CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Gyllenhaal) witnesses an unsettling El-Ibrahimi interrogation. Both face a struggle to stop government officials (stone-faced Streep and Arkin) from forcing El-Ibrahimi to accept blame for the attack, but their efforts are unlikely to make you sit up and take notice of the underlying message against extraordinary rendition.
Gavin Hood, who won an Oscar for best foreign film with Tsotsi in 2005, offers very little beyond putting the characters on screen. There’s nothing to hold your attention after the bombing as the torture scenes seem lightweight compared to the abundance of them in recent horror movies and the political wrangling is as boring as a council meeting about garden fences. A sub plot tries to evoke the human emotion Witherspoon appears incapable of doing alone, yet even that resorts to a time trick at the end in a bid to make audiences sit up and take notice.
Rendition does nothing particularly badly and has a very worthy point to be made, but goes about it the wrong way. We don’t need another good Samaritan standing up to dodgy government officials for the benefit of one family to get an important message across. Rendition undermines its aim of putting question marks over the use of extraordinary rendition by the US government because it simply follows the model of a standardised political thriller. Even the well-established actors seem half asleep until the climactic 15 minutes when the old cliche of a race-against-time is used to up the pace and signal a finale. Unless you like your political messages wrapped up in dull-to-watch movies, Rendition is a tiresome two hours.
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