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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

RENDITION (2007) - Gavin Hood

The second film tackling current affairs in two weeks arrives on our doorsteps in the form of Gavin Hood’s Rendition. The film is quite different to the previous issue film, The Kingdom. However, the quality of the film is little better. For a film that has quite a bit of rage about the issue it tackles, that being the secret kidnap and torture of men to gain information during the war on terror, for some reason the performances are incredibly lacklustre. It’s strange that with a subject as incendiary as this, the film fails on so many levels.

Rendition opens with a town in an unidentified African country. We are introduced to Douglas Freeman, a pen pusher working for the CIA. He is caught up in an explosion while briefing a fellow operative who dies in the blast. Freeman replaces his fellow agent in a job that will test his morality. He is witness to the torture of kidnapped Egyptian born US green-card holding man, Anwar El-Ibrahimi. The CIA believes El-Ibrahimi is involved with the terrorists behind the bomb blast. In the US, El-Ibrahimi’s wife, Isabella struggles to find out what has happened to her husband after he inexplicably disappears from his flight home from South Africa. Her search leads her to Corinne Whitman, the CIA chief responsible for El-Ibrahimi’s kidnap and rendition.

For a film as weighty as the likes of Traffic and Syriana, and featuring a cast of actors who are all very talented, Rendition fails to entertain or educate. We all know that torture happens. With a US president who pretty much issues carte blanche to everyone to do what’s necessary to carry out his will, you can pretty much be guaranteed that this kind of thing happens. So there’s nothing new in this film. In fact, as unrealistic is it is, TV’s 24 pretty much covers what’s been done in this film. And it is far more entertaining. The characterisations themselves are pretty ridiculous. Everything is split into stark black and white with no grey area. The bad guys are bad and the good guys are good. I’m afraid the human race doesn’t work that way, so on screen, unless it’s fantasy, it doesn’t work.

Rendition features three academy award winners, so by that rationale, they should be pretty decent actors. But you wouldn’t guess that from their performances. Two of the three leads, Jake Gyllenhaal as Freeman, and Reese Witherspoon as Isabella El-Ibrahimi both put in incredibly dull performances. For two people under incredible pressure, they don’t seem to be very fazed by it. Other than to rubbing their faces and occasionally letting out a yell, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were sleepwalking. Meryl Streep’s character is a ridiculous cartoon character villain, a sort of wicked witch of the CIA. She’s given a southern drawl, and at one point imitates South Park’s Mr. Mackay when she says ‘mmmkay.’ I’ve never been a fan of Streep’s, she is a good actor, but terrible here. In fact, only Peter Sarsgaard and Alan Arkin come out of the film with some sort of credibility.

Special mention must be made of the film’s ridiculously contrived plot twist. It’s absolutely unnecessary and while I did find myself going ‘ah!’ when it happened, that immediately turned to annoyance at how stupid it is. While Rendition isn’t as bad as The Kingdom, neither is it much better. If this trend in political inspired movies continues, things bode very badly for some up-coming movies!


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