With a powerhouse team of actors, it is very difficult for “Rendition” not to deliver. The gripping melodrama gives faces to the government practice of “extraordinary rendition” — sending people to another county for torture interrogation — and these faces just happen to be such Hollywood A-listers as Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep and Alan Arkin. The film leaves the audience with an eye-opening realization of the practice of “rendition,” but its strong actors can only do so much to save the shallow characters.
When an Egyptian-American terrorist suspect (Omar Metwally) goes missing on a flight from South Africa back to the United States, it is up to his “All-American Wife,” Isabella (Witherspoon), to trade in her soccer mom status to become a tough-as-nails detective en route to Washington to uncover the secrets of deceitful officials.
In Egypt, it is up to the newbie interrogator Douglas Freeman (Gyllenhaal) to get the government what they want out of Witherspoon’s suspected terrorist husband. Viewers see Gyllenhaal struggle internally with bearing witness to the torturing of an innocent man. He plays the part well and manages to come off relatable but does little to add depth to his character. Unlike Metwally, who forces viewers to feel the repeated pain of the “terrorist” being brutally tortured for a crime he did not commit, the audience has little invested in Gyllenhaal and will not really care how things turn out for him when everything is wrapping up.
Meanwhile in South Africa, Islamic extremists are focused on their holy war to seek revenge on a high-ranking official for the torture and killing of their brother and fellow extremist. This is when the movie starts a predictable subplot best summed up as Egyptian Romeo and Juliet. It seems almost too perfect that the official’s daughter falls in love with the very terrorist sent out to kill her father.
Another almost too unrealistic portion of the film is Witherspoon’s success. The pregnant soccer mom manages, with few connections, to meet face to face in an emotional scene with the woman (Streep) responsible for her husband’s capture. Streep plays a very strong woman who seems to have no heart at all. However, this role is not much of a challenge for the veteran actor and is by no means another Oscar winner for Streep.
Though Witherspoon’s acting is not as moving as in past roles, she definitely portrays a weepy pregnant lady well. The relatable Witherspoon does about as much as she can with a character that has hardly any depth.
The only problem with the plot occurs in the final scenes when a sudden twist of time leaves the audience a bit rattled and takes them away from the movie for a minute to ask the person beside them, “Wait, what just happened?” Some plotlines unravel while others simply get left out of the conclusion.
Overall, “Rendition” is a well-directed film with a killer cast — even if Gyllenhaal and Witherspoon never share a scene, despite what the previews imply. The film does a good job of entertaining the audience, as well as getting them to think about real issues.
“Rendition” was written by Kelly Sane, and directed by Gavin Hood.
“Rendition” received two out of four stars.