Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Our post-9/11 cinema is becoming full of Middle East-set war films. Some have hit (In the Valley of Elah) others have missed (The Kingdom) and plenty more are to come. We’ve got a trend. Good or bad, none of these movies are making a great deal of money at the box office. Are people not interested? Are they not ready? Do they want to see films about a war that hasn’t even ended yet? As escapist art, how long can this trend last?

Based on Rendition, the latest film to fit the bill, this film genre is dead on arrival. Rendition tries (and believe me, it tries) to be a good film, but not even a powerhouse of a cast can save it. The movie must have looked great on paper, getting Oscar-celebrated names like Gyllenhaal, Witherspoon, Streep, and Arkin to fill the poster. But the immensely talented cast isn’t given enough to do, being provided with stiff words and tired actions to fill the dull film.

After conducting business in South Africa, Jeremy (Armis Knight) is taken at an American airport and flown back to a foreign country (the meaning of rendition) to be interrogated (tortured). Streep and others at the CIA think Jeremy may have information about a suicide bombing that has just occurred in a foreign land. Gyllenhaal plays the rookie state department officer who sits in on the questioning (torture) of Jeremy.

Jeremy’s very pregnant wife Isabella (Witherspoon) starts her own investigation, trying to track down her missing husband. She gets closer to the truth with the help of an ex-boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) and his connection with a powerful senator (Arkin).

All the while, there is a boring subplot involving a young man who may have been involved with the bombing and his trysts with the daughter of the man officially in charge of doing the questioning (torture) of Jeremy.

The countless torture scenes drive the meaning of the film a little too hard. Rendition makes its point but it doesn’t keep attention.

I learned back in Reservoir Dogs that if you torture someone for long enough, they are going to tell you whatever you want to hear, and it’s no surprise when that happens in this film. Rendition does have a few good points. Gyllenhaal does well at hitting his so-depressed-that-I’m-watching-the-brutalization-so-I-must-drink mark. The film also has a remarkable little twist of an ending, in which I sat, genuinely shocked, aimlessly trying to piece it together in my head. But that is all but ruined when it is completely spoon-fed to you. If the intention of such films is to make audiences think and then realize and then empathize, don’t you suppose we’re capable of figuring it out on our own? C-


  1. I found the subplot about the locals and the bombing to be the most interesting part.

    The rest felt too heavy handed, although the general topic is interesting. Ultimately, I think Jake Gyllenhaal just bugs me too much. He seems like the actor Hollywood built to spec, but something went wrong, and he only has one setting: brooding.

    1. I honestly haven't seen this movie since writing this review, but yeah, I remember being the most drawn to the bombing plot. The Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal stories didn't really interest me at all. Haven't thought about this movie in years, so I guess oh well!