Web Exclusive: “Rendition”

    What happened to South-African filmmaker Gavin Hood? After 2005’s
    award-winning “Tsotsi,” his future looked undeniably bright: fancy parties,
    A-list support, carte blanche in terms of artistic productions — the whole
    nine. But if the Toronto Film Festival is indeed the movie doppler radar system
    it would like to be, Hood may have to hunker down for one of bigtime cinema’s
    perfect storms: top production standards, spoiled talent and a script that goes
    nowhere fast. There appears to be no calm eye to the torrential storm
    “Rendition” is about to become: a topical audience magnet disguised as an Oscar
    contender.

    Designed to revolve around the concept of “extreme rendition,” Kelley
    Sane’s based-on-a-true-story screenplay dissects the case of Anwar El-Ibrahimi
    (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-born, Amerian chemist who is abducted and held as
    a suspected terrorist. He is then released without explanation, as the Central
    Intelligence Agency tries to sweep leftover blame under the rug.

    Bring on the cavalcade of Oscar favorites! Reese Witherspoon is Isabella,
    El-Ibrahimi’s blonde wife, who devotes her screentime to different — albeit
    acceptable ­— ways to look sad,
    distressed or determined. Jake Gyllenhaal is Douglas Freeman, young
    analyst turned torture expert, who attempts to muster that do-good courage to
    fight against his country’s injustices. Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
    plays a senator with the power to right the wrongs and Meryl Streep is the
    bitchy backbone to the CIA’s covert ops. Both provide the appropriate feel for
    Washington politicos: dead, white masses of failed life you can usually catch
    on CSPAN’s congressional coverage. Practically the film’s only hope is left
    with Peter Sarsgaard (as Isabella’s college flame and Arkin’s empoloyee), who
    gives a minor jolt of humanity to a fizzled ensemble. The real acting chops
    come from the cast’s Middle Eastern counterparts: Moa Khouas, Nieb Oukach and
    Mewally tip the celebrity hierarchy in both emotion and overall intrigue.

    “Syriana,” this is not. The multi-storied approach to this political
    thriller has almost become a self-parody genre, so predictable and boorish that
    by the end of the redundant plotline — the government is evil and we need to
    stand up! — we’re left three years in the past, when these issues should have
    been addressed. The attempt is laudable, yet a film that fails to provide any
    new insight or thought into an issue that’s seen its fair share of talking
    heads is hardly groundbreaking. In an age when blind patriotism and public
    neglect fly by the seats of their pants and contempt for our fellow men run
    rampant, we need a film that invigorates us and makes us aware, not another
    finger nagging at the powers that be.

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