Posted: 10/29/2007




by Laura Tucker

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What if someone disappears in a foreign country, and no matter where you reach out for help, you either encounter dead ends or more red tape? What if you begin to realize the people responsible are none other than your own country? That’s the situation Reese Witherspoon is presented with in Rendition, and the frightening part of it is that watching this film, you get the idea that it’s closer to fact than fiction.

Isabella, a young mother very pregnant with her second child is anxiously awaiting her husband’s return from an overseas business trip. She and her son arrive at the airport to meet his plane, but he never deplanes and isn’t answering his cell phone. Calling the airlines produces the information that he boarded his plane in Cape Town, South Africa, but never made his connection in a country in Northern Africa. With every phone call, she only reaches more dead ends, and eventually reaches out to an old friend from school that now works for a senator.

A bombing has happened in Northern Africa, and it appears the intended target was a top official, Abasi Fawal (Yigal Naor). Killed instead in the blast is a CIA official assigned to the area who had been riding in a car with one of his young underlings, Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal). In the wrong place at the wrong time, Freeman is now thrust into his boss’ job with more responsibility than he had ever bargained for, as from the clips we saw before the blast, it seemed his only goal there in Northern Africa was to get in the pants of a young local woman he worked with.

Fawal’s daughter, Fatima (Zineb Oukach), figures into all this as well. She has fallen in love with a young man, Khalid (Moa Khouas), her father certainly doesn’t approve of, as he’s already “chosen” a husband for her. They hide out from her father, despite the fact that Khalid begs to meet him, seemingly thinking he’ll be able to present a convincing argument. Her older sister harbors her in her apartment with her own rules, but of course, if she isn’t following her father’s rules, she isn’t going to follow her sister’s, either.

We know all these people have to figure in together somehow, and we’re right. When the member of the CIA is killed, this sets off something in the United States as they want to capture anyone responsible. The decision-making falls to Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep), a politico from Washington, although we never learn what her official governmental position is. Searching through records, they discover a connection via cell phone to Isabella’s husband, Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), born in Egypt and a green card holder. He moved to the United States as a teenager and met Isabella in school.

Following 9/11, a little-known law has been in use, called Rendition. It allows the United States to detain people that are suspected terrorists by shipping them off to foreign soil. Anwar is taken into custody as he is getting off the plane in the U.S., and they take care of all paperwork to make it appear as if he has disappeared. They question him as to why he was in Cape Town and ask how he knows Rashid Salimi. He denies knowledge of Rashid, and explains he was in Cape Town for a conference due to his job as a chemical engineer. While he has spent time working for the ATF, he denies having knowledge of bomb-making.

Anwar is transferred back to Northern Africa, and is interrogated by Fawal. Douglas has been assigned to tail Fawal and report any info he receives back to Whitman. The problem is that Fawal is only interested in getting Anwar to agree he knows Rashid and was responsible for the bombing. He doesn’t care how he gets him to agree, just wants him to. This means an incredible amount of torture over several days. He’s stripped naked, beaten, electrified, half drowned, etc. It’s very hard for Douglas to sit and watch all this, and when he tries to intervene, he angers Fawal.

It’s obvious throughout the film that the goal is to show us what really goes on in the government behind our backs. The Rendition clause makes it possible for them to detain people, and if they do it off U.S. soil, they can get away with abusing people and not giving them due process of law. I have to admit, it works. You can’t help but wonder as you leave the theater if this type of thing goes on all the time. However, at the same time, we celebrate every time a suspected terrorist is caught.

It all makes for a very gripping story, but I had qualms with a time reference thing at the end. It’s meant as a huge surprise, but the problem is, it’s such a surprise that instead of enjoying where the story was going, at this point because of the time reference, I became caught up in rerunning the whole movie through my mind trying to make sense of the time reference and how it could have worked like that. I’m still unsure about it.

As I drove home from the theatre I had several imagines in my mind, the time frame thing that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, terrorist attacks, and the horrible abuse Anwar was enduring. I’m guessing that aside from the time frame thing, the rest was the intended goal of Rendition.

Laura Tucker is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints and Reality Shack.

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