Home > Culture > Rendition


122 minutes Rated MA15+

It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination… there are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply.

Not a recent quote, those lines are from a CIA report to President Truman in the early years of the Cold War.

Perhaps little has changed.

Directed by Gavin Hood and written by Kelly Sane, Rendition asks a big question in a very personal way. World War, Cold War, Global War on Terror – can the end justify the means?

Reese Witherspoon is an all-American, heavily pregnant, suburban, upper middle class mum. She is married to Green Card carrying, twenty year resident, NYU graduate business executive Egyptian who has the wrong numbers in his mobile phone’s calls received log.

Omar Atwally could be playing the recently expelled Gold Coast doctor Mohamed Haneef. But instead of an airliner, Gyllenhaal’s character is bundled aboard a CIA jet and disappears, bound for a North African nation (Egypt).

Atwally’s performance is as raw as his wounds. He seems to ask the audience, “How do you think you’d feel?”

The film takes its name from the CIA practice known as ‘rendition’, established under President Bill Clinton. To all legal intents and purposes, the USA does not torture prisoners. However, on the basis of evidence that cannot be used in a civilian court, suspected terrorists have been abducted and delivered into the hands of allied governments for interrogations that would never be permitted in the west.

Rendition seems to follow a predictable civil libertarian line. To be fair, the (female) Director of CIA Operations, played by Meryl Streep, is allowed to state her case. Corrine Whitman is one hard old pragmatist.

“Intelligence gathered by these means saved seven thousand lives in London. My grandchildren live in London. I’m glad I’m running this operation and you ‘re not.”

Can we measure the value of lives in raw numbers?

As he tortures the hapless prisoner, the Middle Eastern security chief Abasi Fawal shows his CIA counterpart an explosive vest used by suicide bombers.

There is no subtlety as he insists saving lives is his “sacred duty”. He has no sympathy for the family man from Chicago, water boarded and electrocuted.

The film’s publicity material asks, “What if someone you love just disappeared?”

Fawal’s own daughter disappears and for a long time the audience is allowed to assume she is only fleeing an arranged marriage and her stereotypical middle-aged, Middle Eastern father.

Through that story, and only in the last minutes, Rendition achieves its surprising best.

The film has not been running in chronological sequence. It’s not that simple. Nor is the underlying question when Rendition focuses down from a systemic issue to personal choices. What if the means were placed in your hands with the end in sight?

Yet the film’s conclusion is also its weak point: a CIA agent with a change of heart and The Press save the day. Neither of those seems realistic.

The final realism is in contrast. The wealthy suburbs of the West are comfortable and secure. Families in the Middle East are torn apart, figuratively and literally.

Due for release on 14th February, Rendition is worth the price of your ticket. This reviewer walked out into the sunshine, took a deep breath, and wasn’t so sure there is an easy answer for Rendition’s big question.

Reviewed by Phil Smith