On paper, Rendition looked good. Damn good. It had Reese Witherspoon, hot off her best actress win as June Carter in Walk the Line. It had “it boy” Jake Gyllenhaal from Brokeback Mountain and Zodiac. It also had stalwarts in Alan Arkin and Meryl Streep rounding out the cast. It was directed by acclaimed Tsotsi director Gavin Hood. And it was about post 9/11 hot-button issues such as torture and imprisonment without due process.
The plot: when a bombing occurs in North Africa, Committee Chairman Corrine Whitman commands the CIA to abduct Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) who is on his way back from a conference in South Africa. She has solid evidence that connects him to the bombing but Anwar maintains his innocence, even when he is tortured. American agent Douglass Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is already burnt out, even at a young age, and looks on while Anwar is tortured by the officials of a North African country where the bombing took place. But will Douglass care enough to help Anwar, even as he comes to believe he’s innocent?
Meanwhile, wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) is left to wonder what happened to her husband when he doesn’t come home and travels to Washington to seek help from former boyfriend, Alan (Peter Sarsgaard), who is an assistant to Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin). There, she is put off by the powers that be, left dangling in the wind.
Think this plot sounds engaging? It is.
So where did it all go wrong?
Rendition tries to do too much. It tells 3 different stories that are directly related, but if it took a step back and told one of those stories and allowed the characters more breathing room to come to life, the film would have really been on to something. Instead, Rendition comes across as a person who has so much boiling up inside him, that when he’s given his chance to voice his opinion, he blabbers on about a whole bunch of different things and never makes a solid point.
As pure entertainment, Rendition does its job. Each story is told well and the actors do their best with what they have to work with. But once its over, you’ll scratch your head and think “the world sucks” as you turn off your DVD player, and move onto whatever’s next. The shame of it is, Rendition could have been the movie to make people stop, and think, and be moved, about what is taking place in the name of American justice and freedom.
It just isn’t.
Rendition features a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen picture. The color palette is different for each setting, and each one is crisp and clear, even in a dark scenes.
Rendition has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that does its job well. Crowded street scenes are heavy in surround usage while the limited action scenes include booming lows that will make you jump out of your seat with shock. Most of the film is driven with dialog so it’s not a demo disc by any means, but what is there is done well.
Commentary with Director Gavin Hood – Hood plainly discusses several subjects, such as the differing color palette for each location setting, the reason he didn’t set the North African plot in a specific country, as well as getting multiple viewpoints on one issue. Most times, however, he simply discusses the action on screen and character motivations.
“Outlawed” – Director Gavin Hood saw this documentary while filming Rendition and thought it really brought home of the human element of torture and imprisonment without due process. It features interviews with several innocent people who were suspected of being terrorists, abducted, and tortured.
Intersections: The Making of Rendition – here Gavin Hood discusses the task of making three different films and weaving them together into one narrative. This includes his shooting locations such as a foggy Washington, DC and Morocco, and interviews with the cast and crew.
Deleted/Alternate Scenes – includes an alternate ending.
Sneak Peeks – trailers for Pride and Glory, Black August, In the Valley of Elah, and PU-239
Rendition is an entertaining film, and it does ask some tough questions but the filmmakers don’t allow us to come to any conclusions on our own. Instead the answers are hammered home for us. And despite the stellar cast, none of the characters fully develop. The disc is presented well, with fine video and audio transfers, and the special features are worth a look for a deeper examination of the film’s subject matter. While a decent film, Rendition remains a minor disappointment for not doing more with its resources.