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Film Review by Jinan Coulter, October 2007
Director: Gavin Hood; Release date: 19 October
Directed by Gavin Hood who gave us the great film Tsotsi, Rendition boldly questions one of the most controversial policies of the "war on terror". Anwar El-Ibrahimi, an Egyptian-American chemical engineer, is firmly whisked out of the customs line upon landing home in the US from South Africa. Under the impression that the matter is an emergency concerning his pregnant wife, he goes with security only to be hooded and bound seconds later behind closed doors.
Anwar's wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon), starts to ask questions. South African officials say he boarded the plane but US officials say they have no record of him.
The film follows multiple characters as their lives converge following a devastating terror attack in a crowded square in an unnamed North African country. It is this attack that has led to Anwar's detention and the evidence is, not surprisingly, flimsy.
Corinne Whitman, the CIA's head of terrorism (played by a steely Meryl Streep), is eager to get results. Despite Anwar's polygraph result coming up clean, Whitman gives the order for rendition: "Polygraph doesn't mean diddly... put him on the plane."
CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is assigned to the job of overseeing Anwar's interrogation in North Africa after his colleague is killed in the bombing. He struggles to accept the tactics used and their efficacy in obtaining results. Although the favourite Hollywood formula of a US agent with a heart lurks in the background, Freeman's character remains suspenseful and detached throughout. During a phone call to his superior Whitman, he confesses, "This is my first torture." Whitman replies tersely, "The United States government does not practise torture."
Although we never see the American doing any of the torturing (that's left to the Arabs), the film does not shy away from pinning the blame on a US government that runs the whole operation.
To its credit, Hollywood has slipped through a handful of decent films which attempt to challenge US foreign policy and power since 9/11. The growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq has undoubtedly fuelled this trend and it is one set to continue.
Although some of the characterisations are a little thin - Isabella disappoints in her half-hearted attempt to get answers as to the whereabouts of her husband - Meryl Streep is convincing as a ruthless agent and Omar Metwally plays a tortured Anwar with painful realism.
The film offers a frightening insight into the logic of the "war on terror". It is a reminder that until something changes, more innocent people will fall victim to the priorities of power and war that drive the US and its allies, and many will devote their lives to fighting it by any means necessary, however deadly.
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