Rendition (2007)

Country: United States

Directed by Gavin Hood Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Omar Metwally, Peter Sarsgaard, Alan Arkin, Meryl Streep, Igal Naor
Music by Paul Hepker, Mark Kilian

Rendition is a very good, if slightly unsettling film. As an Australian, Rendition is a term that I am not really familiar with. Apparently it relates to a law that enables the American Government, in the interest of National Security to whisk away suspects, out of the country, where they can be interrogated without the usual legal rights. In this film, Rendition is presented as a rather brutal and barbaric way to extract information.

Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is a successful American chemical engineer. When I say American, I mean that he has lived in America for twenty years after immigrating from Egypt. He was schooled in America and married a pretty American girl, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon). They have a son named Jeremy and another child is on the way. When we first meet Anwar he is in Cape Town, South Africa where he has just attended an engineering conference. He is now on his way to the airport to catch a flight back home to Chicago, via Washington.

Meanwhile in an un-named North African country, a new CIA section chief, named Dixon has taken over. Accompanied by a self confessed pen-pusher, Douglas Freeman, Dixon is on his way to meet the country’s chief of security, Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor). That morning an assassination attempt is made on Fawal. The sniper misses but kills a waiter. Fawal’s bodyguards quickly rush him out the back as a suicide bomber blows himself up in the city’s centre square. In their car, on the opposite side of the square are Dixon and Freeman, and when the bomb goes off, the blast hits the car, shatters the windows and kills Dixon. Taking responsibility for the attack is a group called El-hazim.

Back in Washington, US Security head, Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep) receives a call in the middle of the night. She is briefed about the situation and authorises the Rendition of Anwar at Washington Airport. On his way through the terminal, to catch his connecting flight to Chicago, he is approached by a policewoman. She tells him that there is an emergency and he is to follow her, which he does. She leads him to an emergency exit, and once through the doors, he is pounced on by several agents, and a black bag placed over his head. The operatives then collect his luggage and delete his information from the passenger records. Anwar is spirited out of the country and delivered to Abasi Fawal in Northern Africa.

Also in Africa, Freeman, after Dixon’s death, is promoted to section head. At this time he is to act as a US observer as Fawal starts his own interrogation of Anwar. Fawal’s methods are slightly more primitive than the CIA’s, but the information that they have received indicates that Anwar El-Ibriahimi is a terrorist, and indirectly, is responsible for the recent terrorist attack in the city square. But allow me to flesh out the background story a bit more. The organisation, El-hazin claimed responsibility for the bombing, and the head man for them is a fellow called Rashis Salemi. Over the past two years Salemi has been behind a multitude of terrorist attacks, but only recently have his bombs become more sophisticated and powerful. Linking Salemi to Anwar is a series of telephone calls made on a mobile phone. As Anwar is a chemical engineer, the supposition is that he is the person who has been upgrading Salemi’s bombs. Anwar on the other hands, claims not to know who Salemi is, and the information must not be correct. But under Fawal’s brutal control, Anwar has no recourse. He is to be tortured until he talks. And if he doesn’t talk, well that’s just too bad.

But this storyline is just one of the many facets to this story. There are also two family based storylines running simultaneously. The first concerns Anwar’s wife, Isabella, who frantically starts searching for her missing husband, only to find she is cut off in every direction she tries to turn. The second strand examines the disappearance of Fawal’s daughter who has fallen in love with a young boy named Khalid, who happens to have fallen in with some Muslim extremists.

As I said from the outset, Rendition is a very good film and it is bolstered by an excellent cast. Although his name is down the list on the billing, Omar Metwally’s performance as Anwar holds the film together. The confusion, desperation and horror of the situation he goes through is heartbreaking to watch. The other actors also give good performances, notably Gyllenhaal as the torment CIA operative, Witherspoon as the frustrated wife who gets no answers and Streep as the ice-cold bitch who does what she has to, in the interests of National Security.

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