U.S. Release Date: October 19, 2007
Distributor: New Line
Director: Gavin Hood
Producer: Steve Golin, Paul Schwake (executive)
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Peter Sarsgaard, Alan Arkin
Running Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: R (torture/violence and language)

Political Drama Plods and Manipulates
by Scott Holleran

A single missed cellular telephone call causes a heap of trouble in Rendition, falsely advertised as a Reese Witherspoon vehicle (she's hardly in it). There is more to the story, including a major twist, which is really a trick. The circuitous plot is another one of those anti-mysteries; the riddle cannot be solved by observing depicted events.

In other words, it's a bait and switch, teasing toward a presumed progression, then going in a completely different direction. Once revealed, it is more annoying than clever. Setting up three separate and distinct story tracks—Witherspoon as a pregnant wife and mother, Jake Gyllenhaal as a novice spook and young Moslem lovers—the Arab terrorist-themed picture starts with the requisite suicide bombing.

The blast disrupts Gyllenhaal's North African business and puts him in charge of the cryptic investigation. After the explosion, in which a pro-Western Arab honcho (Igal Naor) is targeted, Witherspoon's Arab chemical engineer husband (Omar Metwally) is secretly detained under Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) authority while traveling back to the United States, prompting her to enlist a college pal (Peter Sarsgaard), who works for a U.S. senator (Alan Arkin, sharp as ever). The beautiful young Moslem lovers also play an important role.

Flaws include numerous half-baked notions. Witherspoon's wimpy wife accepts a parent's ability to coach soccer as proof of patriotism and she waddles around Capitol Hill trusting the life of her missing spouse to a politician's aide. Her Egyptian husband never became a U.S. citizen, despite being here for 20 years, making $200,000 a year and being married to an American and he once tested explosives—yet he's shocked to discover that he isn't above reproach post-September 11. Rendition makes a point about due process and the limits of torture as an intelligence tool—but it's a point, not a strongly developed and integrated dramatic theme.

The plot crawls. Key events occur offscreen. Mystical chants drone during the entire movie, as if we need to be reminded of religious fundamentalist culture. To the picture's credit, the religious radical call to arms—"God is great!"— the 9/11/01 attackers' battle cry as they hijacked the planes, is used to signify an impending attack.

Scenes of torture by American and allied agents echo the movie's hazy theme that poverty and brutality cause acts of Islamic jihadism, sidestepping the role of faith. In several ways, Rendition is designed to ignore its subject's essentials, limiting Witherspoon's screen time, not developing the husband character prior to his seizure and letting Sarsgaard's politico ludicrously jump from a traveling discrepancy to a CIA conspiracy.

Thought-provoking topical drama lacks in this slow, manipulative exercise, which also features Meryl Streep as a variation of her corrupt politician in The Manchurian Candidate and resembles the dreary Babel in subject, structure and theme.

Lions for Lambs
Redford's War Hunt for the Mind
Holier Feds Than Thou