“When a man mysteriously vanishes from an overseas flight, his disappearance sends shockwaves all the way to the nation’s capitol. Desperate for the truth, his wide begins a search for the missing man which leads a CIA unit head and a novice agent into a international web of deceit, conspiracies and top secret truths far more frightening than the lies that conceal them. “An intelligent thriller with intrigue, smarts and a great cast” Rendition stars Jack Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Alan Arkin and Meryl Steep.”
“Rendition” is rated R for torture/violence and language.
Neglecting the fact that we’ve seen this thing way too many times before, the film at least deals with a new aspect of the post-9/11 world, that being the case of “extraordinary renditions”, in which the CIA has permission to extradite those thought to be involved in terrorism without needing any sort of warrant. Because of this, Egyptian chemist Anwar El-Ibrahami (Omar Metwally), who has a pregnant wife (Witherspoon) and 6-year-old boy in the United States, mysteriously disappears when the CIA removes him from his flight home from abroad and deports him back to Egypt where he’s imprisoned and systematically tortured since he’s suspected of having collaborated with the terrorists responsible. Essentially, their case revolves around phone calls made from the suspected terrorist to Anwar’s cell phone, but in order to find out why, he is stripped naked and tortured in unspeakable ways for an extended period of time while his wife Isabella has no idea what happened to him. (The CIA has also conveniently removed any record of his presence on the airplane from which they removed him, and he isn’t allowed to call home.)
She contacts a friend in Washington (presumably an ex-lover, played by Peter Sarsgaard) who works for a high-powered senator that might be able to look into Anwar’s disappearance, although they both are tenuous about damaging their own image by supporting someone potentially with roots to terrorists. Meanwhile, CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been called in by his superiors (played by J.K. Simmons and Meryl Streep) to supervise the “questioning” of Anwar by a high-powered Egyptian official. The other story running through the movie is that of two young Egyptian lovers, the girl who is the daughter of Anwar’s interrogator, and their involvement might be somewhat vague until near the end of the movie.
Granted, there’s sufficient reasons for making a movie like this to show how the government has used 9/11 and the war to justify their involvement in all sorts of questionable activities like the torture of those suspected of terrorism, but the script by Kelley Sane isn’t particularly impressive and while Hood has made a decent-looking second film, with so many films exploring similar material, the film seems predictable and redundant.
More than anything else, the movie seems to exist merely to show off its superstar cast and what Hood can do when given a bigger budget. Sadly, the Western actors tend to come across the worst and not nearly as convincing as their Mideast counterparts. The latter unknowns are the true standouts of the film, particularly Omar Metwally, who gives a heart-breaking performance as the tortured family man with an equally strong counterpoint in Yigal Naor as the man doing the torturing. Since Hood’s last movie succeeded so well with the use of non-actors, it’s surprising he didn’t try to develop unknown American talent rather than going with big names who detract from the story.
Jake Gyllenhaal is grossly miscast as the CIA analyst whose partner was killed in the bomb blast, since he looks way too young and spends much of the film brooding or watching Anwar’s torture without saying much or doing anything significant. Reese Witherspoon also seems way too young for her role, and she overcompensates with overdramatic hysterics. Meryl Streep shows up, then disappears then returns with a heavy Southern accent as the head of the CIA who approves Anwar’s deportation, in a role closer to that she played in Jonathan Demme’s “The Manchurian Candidate.” Of the known actors, Peter Sarsgaard delivers the most convincing performance, reminding us of his last visit to Toronto with “Flightplan,” another movie about a missing person from a plane, but this is a much stronger part for him, his scenes with Alan Arkin and Streep being the strongest ones in the movie.
Without giving away the “surprise twist”, there’s a non-linear aspect to the way the film resolves itself that explains the important part the young lovers play in the story, but by that point–over an hour and 45 minutes into the movie–it starts to create way too many questions and possible flaws in the film’s temporal logic, and it does very little to make up for some of the bland storytelling leading up to it.
The other notable bonus features are the Deleted / Alternate scenes. You see a deleted subplot showing Gyllenhaal’s character suspecting his girlfriend of cheating on him based on misinterpreted phone records. There’s also a deleted sequence where Anwar’s captors fake an escape attempt in order to try and get him to talk. Needless to say it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
Rounding out the bonus features are a “making of” video and the director’s commentary.