What if someone you love…just disappeared?
Précis: Powerful, scathing drama about the USA’s illegal programme to relocate and torture terrorism suspects.
Review by Matt:
Mental note. Do not get on the wrong side of the USA. Rendition, a terrifying political drama from director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi), offers a powerful reminder that the heart of the world’s superpower is a piece of cold steel. It also reminds us of the distressing fact that in the dirty, covert ‘war on terror’, innocence is not necessarily enough to keep you on the right side of the USA.
Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-born American, flies home to Washington, but never makes it out of the airport. American authorities suspect him of being connected to a terrorist group, so the CIA sweeps him off the map, and into its ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme. Anwar is covertly flown to a foreign hellhole, for interrogation at the hands of clinical torture master, Abasi (Igal Naor). Overseeing is a conflicted American CIA operative, Douglass Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal). Meanwhile, back in the US, Anwar’s anxious wife (Reese Witherspoon) desperately searches for answers, the poor everyday citizen stuck at the edge of the Government’s national security black hole.
The roundly good acting intensifies the drama, with Omar Metwally’s remarkable performance as Anwar making a traumatic centerpiece. Meryl Streep personifies the frosty Government neo-con with typical excellence. Peter Sarsgaard also stands out as a political advisor caught between the personal and political worlds. In lesser hands the characters could have seemed like black and white chess pieces in the film’s bigger political agenda.
Rendition slices through a complex and topical issue with great intelligence, weaving the personal and political threads into a coherent and principled picture. Considering the rage one might feel about the USA’s practice of disappearing and torturing people, Rendition remains relatively calm. Its messages emerge with a quiet intensity, realistically showing that the use of torture by a cold and compromised administration only perpetuates the cycle of violence.
Viewers might balk at the stressful subject matter, or at the film’s unhurried style, which pushes the running time past two hours. But the film deserves a wide audience. It’s smart, moving and it takes a stand. Some have complained, but in my opinion, Rendition is not unfairly favorable to one side of the ‘extraordinary rendition’ debate. We’re pitched the administration’s reasoning for its methods daily, and the film repeats them as well. But it reminds us why those reasons are wrong – and it does it with restraint. The film also fulfills an essential role of art. It provokes us to question and criticize. It uses drama to pierce the veil of secrecy that powerful forces use to shroud this abusive practice, and it restores its human face. For George Bush, Anwar’s face would just be another to cross off his scorecard of suspects, after a job well done. (*)
(*) Note, the Washington Post has reported that George Bush does in fact keep this scorecard.