Rendition is a political thriller about the use of torture to obtain information that may, in the long run, save innocent lives. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Peter Sarsgaard and Alan Arkin it is an even handed look at a sticky ideological question from Tsotsi director Gavin Hood.
American sweetheart Witherspoon plays Isabella El-Ibrahimi, the pregnant wife of an Egyptian-born chemical engineer who disappears while on a flight from South Africa, where he has been at a conference, to Washington, where he lives. Unbeknownst to Isabella her husband is suspected of involvement with an extremist group responsible for a Middle-Eastern suicide bombing and has been the subject of ‘extraordinary rendition,’ whereby suspected terrorists in the US can be sent, without the legal consent of their parent nations, to third country prisons to be clandestinely questioned and detained.
As she desperately tries to track her husband down with the help of her old friend Alan (Peter Sarsgaard), an aid of Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin), on the other side of the world a sad-eyed CIA analyst (Gyllenhaal) is developing moral questions as he becomes personally involved in El-Ibrahimi’s torture. In the middle of this mess is Corinne Whitman (Meryl Streep), the powerful intelligence agent who ordered the rendition.
There are a few moments in Rendition when a lesser director may have allowed the material to go off the deep end, but Hood keeps everything on track. It is a well balanced film that does something that most Hollywood films don’t do—it allows the audience to make up its own mind. When Streep’s character argues that information obtained by torture has saved thousands of lives it acts as a counterbalance to Witherspoon’s anguish. Imagine Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart arguing the point and you get the idea of the divide between these two characters.
Unlike the recent terrorism movie The Kingdom, Rendition isn’t as interested in pointing fingers, but seems to be determined to present a story that will entertain, but also stimulate conversation.