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HomeNewsArchivesIs 'Rendition' a Timely Political Thriller or a Lecture Disguised as a...

Is 'Rendition' a Timely Political Thriller or a Lecture Disguised as a Movie?

Oct. 24, 2007 — Here's a movie that is, if nothing else, provocative: "Rendition" has the critics coming at it from all corners.
Whether this movie is too overboard a political statement, the overriding concern, it would seem, is more than the quality of the film; it's the fact that it brings us face to face with a shameful practice that America, from all reports, endorses in the name of "keeping us safe."
Safe from what? Our consciences?
Roger Ebert, in the Chicago Sun-Times, calls it, "Terrifying, intelligent," while Wesley Morris, in the Boston Globe, says, "… it's a reminder that, in the wrong hands, political outrage can be a slog." Michael Phillips, in the Chicago Tribune, calls it "timely, without being gripping."
It's obviously timely, with rendition high on the Bush administration's list of things to do. "Rendition" defined by Wikipedia: "Extraordinary rendition and irregular rendition are terms used to describe the extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another, and the term 'torture by proxy' is used by some critics to describe extraordinary rendition by the United States, with regard to the alleged transfer of suspected terrorists to countries known to employ harsh interrogation techniques that may rise to the level of torture."
Whatever else, "Rendition" boasts a dynamite cast starring Meryl Streep as head of the CIA (that alone should be worth the price of admission), and Reese Witherspoon as Isabella, the American wife of an Egyptian-born husband she believes was taken by the CIA. Jake Glyllenhyall, Alan Arkin and Peter Sarsgaard round out the stellar cast.
It's a thriller that centers on Isabella's search for her husband, chemical engineer Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Wetwally), who disappears on a flight from South Africa to Washington. The movie sets into motion a chain of events caused by El-Ibrahimi's illegal kidnapping. Isabella contacts an old boyfriend (Sarsgaard) who works for a powerful senator (Arkin). The senator intervenes, only to be shot down by Streep, who uses terrorism as an excuse for the action and threatens the senator with political suicide. He backs off.
Meantime, Ebert says, "In an unnamed foreign country, we meet CIA pencil-pusher Douglas Freeman (Glyllenhaal), who has little experience in field work but has taken over the post after the assassination of his boss. His job is to work with and 'supervise' the torturer Abasi. This he does with no enthusiasm but from a sense of duty. He is not cut out for this kind of work, drinks too much, broods, has discussions with Abasi, who is an intelligent man and not a monster.
"How this all plays out," Ebert continues, "has much to do with Abasi's daughter, Fatima (Zineb Oukach), who is secretly in love with a fellow student not approved of by her family. All these human strands, seemingly so separated, eventually weave into the same rope, in a film that builds its suspense by the uncoiling of personalities."
Morris doesn't see it that way: "Kelley Sane's overworked script goes out of its way to give us scenes of a rousing terrorist cell meeting and of Abasi's teenaged daughter, Fatima, running around an unspecified North African city in forbidden love with a lower-class boy named Khalid (Moa Khouas)."
He adds, "You can bet they'll figure into the climax. And if you couldn't have predicted where this is headed, 'Rendition' is the sort of picture where one character keeps Ye Olde telltale scrapbook that spells out to another character what's been going on."
Ebert sees the film as "documenting that we have lost faith in due process, and the rule of law." It is now so well established, he says, "that the United States authorizes the practices shown in this film, that when President Bush goes on television to blandly deny it with his 'who, we?' little-boy innocence, I feel saddened. He may eventually be the last person to believe himself."
Morris disagrees: "The stars involved haven't simply made a film; they've signed a petition. But the petition they've signed is so single-mindedly concerned with throwing political punches that it fails as both a movie and an indictment."
Phillips strikes a balance between his two fellow critics: "Director Hood did the satisfying South African Oscar winner 'Tsotsi,' and he wrangles 'Rendition's multiple storylines with skill. He cannot elevate the writing, however. It has one goal in mind: to remind audiences of our country’s worst excesses in the realm of 'extraordinary rendition. The idea is to put a human face (Witherspoon’s, primarily) on a political issue. But the script is prosaic throughout."
It starts Thursday at Market Square East. It runs two hours, two minutes and is rated R for torture/violence and language. (I guess torture of human beings is one of those things now, like risque dialogue, that merits an R rating.)

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Oct. 24, 2007 -- Here's a movie that is, if nothing else, provocative: "Rendition" has the critics coming at it from all corners.
Whether this movie is too overboard a political statement, the overriding concern, it would seem, is more than the quality of the film; it's the fact that it brings us face to face with a shameful practice that America, from all reports, endorses in the name of "keeping us safe."
Safe from what? Our consciences?
Roger Ebert, in the Chicago Sun-Times, calls it, "Terrifying, intelligent," while Wesley Morris, in the Boston Globe, says, "... it's a reminder that, in the wrong hands, political outrage can be a slog." Michael Phillips, in the Chicago Tribune, calls it "timely, without being gripping."
It's obviously timely, with rendition high on the Bush administration's list of things to do. "Rendition" defined by Wikipedia: "Extraordinary rendition and irregular rendition are terms used to describe the extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another, and the term 'torture by proxy' is used by some critics to describe extraordinary rendition by the United States, with regard to the alleged transfer of suspected terrorists to countries known to employ harsh interrogation techniques that may rise to the level of torture."
Whatever else, "Rendition" boasts a dynamite cast starring Meryl Streep as head of the CIA (that alone should be worth the price of admission), and Reese Witherspoon as Isabella, the American wife of an Egyptian-born husband she believes was taken by the CIA. Jake Glyllenhyall, Alan Arkin and Peter Sarsgaard round out the stellar cast.
It's a thriller that centers on Isabella's search for her husband, chemical engineer Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Wetwally), who disappears on a flight from South Africa to Washington. The movie sets into motion a chain of events caused by El-Ibrahimi's illegal kidnapping. Isabella contacts an old boyfriend (Sarsgaard) who works for a powerful senator (Arkin). The senator intervenes, only to be shot down by Streep, who uses terrorism as an excuse for the action and threatens the senator with political suicide. He backs off.
Meantime, Ebert says, "In an unnamed foreign country, we meet CIA pencil-pusher Douglas Freeman (Glyllenhaal), who has little experience in field work but has taken over the post after the assassination of his boss. His job is to work with and 'supervise' the torturer Abasi. This he does with no enthusiasm but from a sense of duty. He is not cut out for this kind of work, drinks too much, broods, has discussions with Abasi, who is an intelligent man and not a monster.
"How this all plays out," Ebert continues, "has much to do with Abasi's daughter, Fatima (Zineb Oukach), who is secretly in love with a fellow student not approved of by her family. All these human strands, seemingly so separated, eventually weave into the same rope, in a film that builds its suspense by the uncoiling of personalities."
Morris doesn't see it that way: "Kelley Sane's overworked script goes out of its way to give us scenes of a rousing terrorist cell meeting and of Abasi's teenaged daughter, Fatima, running around an unspecified North African city in forbidden love with a lower-class boy named Khalid (Moa Khouas)."
He adds, "You can bet they'll figure into the climax. And if you couldn't have predicted where this is headed, 'Rendition' is the sort of picture where one character keeps Ye Olde telltale scrapbook that spells out to another character what's been going on."
Ebert sees the film as "documenting that we have lost faith in due process, and the rule of law." It is now so well established, he says, "that the United States authorizes the practices shown in this film, that when President Bush goes on television to blandly deny it with his 'who, we?' little-boy innocence, I feel saddened. He may eventually be the last person to believe himself."
Morris disagrees: "The stars involved haven't simply made a film; they've signed a petition. But the petition they've signed is so single-mindedly concerned with throwing political punches that it fails as both a movie and an indictment."
Phillips strikes a balance between his two fellow critics: "Director Hood did the satisfying South African Oscar winner 'Tsotsi,' and he wrangles 'Rendition's multiple storylines with skill. He cannot elevate the writing, however. It has one goal in mind: to remind audiences of our country’s worst excesses in the realm of 'extraordinary rendition. The idea is to put a human face (Witherspoon’s, primarily) on a political issue. But the script is prosaic throughout."
It starts Thursday at Market Square East. It runs two hours, two minutes and is rated R for torture/violence and language. (I guess torture of human beings is one of those things now, like risque dialogue, that merits an R rating.)