Movie review: “Rendition”

“It’s a human lament about where we as human beings are in our conflict with one another.” (Gavin Hood – “The Making of…”)

Before watching this movie, I had no idea what the word ‘rendition’ means. Now I know that it refers to the practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ or ‘irregular rendition’, allegedly used by the United States to transfer a suspect into another jurisdiction or another country that is known to use and condone harsh interrogation techniques (i.e. torture) in order to obtain information.

Rendition (2007) is an excellent, but at times very hard to watch movie by South African director Gavin Hood (who also directed the award-winning Tsotsi in 2005). Rendition (YouTube trailer and New York Times review) is based on the true story of Khalid El-Masri, who was mistaken for Khalid al-Masri, and interrogated and tortured for an interminably long time. An extensive and disturbing interview with the German-speaking El-Masri is included among the Special Features.

There are two parallel story lines that are about a week or so apart, although this only becomes clear right at the end, which was quite confusing.

The one story revolves around Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian man with a heavily pregnant American wife (Reese Witherspoon as Isabella Fields El-Ibrahimi). At the start of the movie, Anwar leaves Cape Town to fly to Washington, where he is mysteriously taken into custody at the airport and all record of his being on the plane is deleted from the passenger list. The government figure who authorises this is Corrine Whitman (an icily cold Meryl Streep).

Anwar is flown to a North African country (Morocco), where he is brutally interrogated on suspicion of being a terrorist, based on the fact that a call was made to his cellphone from a known terrorist. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Douglas Freeman, the youthful CIA analyst who is given the nausea-inducing task of observing the interrogation by the bald-headed Abasi.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, an increasingly desperate Isabella is trying to extract information on her husband’s whereabouts from the government. She turns to an old college friend, Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgard), who tries his best to help her.

The other story, set slightly back in time from the first story, revolves around a young suicide bomber. Khalid’s brother died in the prison of Abasi, the same policeman who is interrogating Anwar in the parallel storyline. Khalid has fallen in love with Fatima, who happens to be Abasi’s rebellious daughter.

After Anwar has ostensibly ‘confessed’, Freeman quotes the following cautionary verse from Shakespeare:

“I fear you speak upon the rack,
Where men enforced do speak anything.”

Not a movie for the faint of heart.

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Other movies we’ve watched in July:  

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