Torture resides as the central political malady in Rendition, a film that offers its own rendition on the same mode of delivery as the recent slate of preening guilt trips masquerading as erudite essays on macro issues that zeros in on the turmoil it causes in the microcosm of American lives. Continuing the tradition of situating American consciousness as the compass of world events, an Americanised Egyptian, Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) with a heavily pregnant American wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) is yanked off his plane home and is detained and systematically terrorised by the American government. It strenuously refers to the policy of extraordinary rendition, in which persons suspected of terrorist activities are transferred and imprisoned in foreign countries for an indefinite amount of time without due process, where they are kept out of sight, and out of mind.
Rendition carries its heft around, swinging it at anyone who will give it some attention. Tsotsi director Gavin Hood sweeps aside the particulars of his subject and focuses, instead, on simplifying the big issues that derive from the ethical conundrums and logistical nightmares of the war on terror. Its timeliness has wavered considerably given the gradual descent of Bush IIs administration that it so lovingly skewers, and as the issue of torture is being given a larger arena in Democratic debates all round the calendar year, given the approaching party Presidential nomination date. But what does come through loud and surprisingly clear is its outrage over the utterly cavalier attitude that its government has for foreign lives. Its not as discursively dry as Syriana was, but this films anger is still what ultimately dooms it when talking points are given but never really explored, preferring instead to return to its stupefying sermons of American responsibility.
Meryl Streep doesnt miss a beat in her transition from fashion dominatrix, Miranda Priestly to neoconservative CIA ghoul at the centre of Anwars disappearance, Corrine Whitman, a drawled out Cheney impression recalling her own arc as Eleanor Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate remake. Evil without the tantalising taste of self-reflection and over the top churlishness, Whitman becomes a caricature of the ills that pervade the halls of Washington, not at all an unfair representation given the audacity of real life politicos. Jake Gyllenhaals CIA analyst turned torture greenhorn, Douglas Freeman croaks to Whitman over the phone that this is his first torture, and then develops a conscience. Crudely drawn for audiences to relate to, Freeman is trapped (another one of the films handling of subtle ironies) between his duty and his morality, mirroring the countrys minefield over constitutional rights and national security.
Presentation in an art form does not immediately equal support and agreement. This is the sort of film that doesnt get stuck in the quagmire of indecision because there will always be a base to congratulate its politics, even when the product itself doesnt present incongruities to challenge established notions of what we think we already know. Its relativist views on the global malfunction of accepted policies eventually give way to the spineless, yielding gesture of defeatism that seems to be analogous with the cynical nature of the BIG ISSUE films that the Hollywood mainstream churns out.