“Rendition” is an Exotic Thriller

After arriving in Chicago, we spent a quiet evening in at the swish and oddly-gothic Hotel Sax (“Monsieurs Lestat and Impaler, your table is ready in the Crimson Lounge”). We watched a movie in our room (reasonably priced at $10): “Rendition”. I’m going to borrow a plot summary from Roger Ebert’s very positive (and highly politicized) review:

Director Gavin Hood’s terrifying, intelligent thriller “Rendition” puts a human face on the practice. We meet Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-born American chemical engineer who lives in Chicago. He and his wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon), have a young son, and she is in advanced pregnancy with another child. After boarding a flight home from a conference in Cape Town, South Africa, Anwar disappears from the airplane, his name disappears from the passenger list and Isabella hears nothing more from him…

The movie sets into motion a chain of events caused by the illegal kidnapping. Isabella, played by Witherspoon with single-minded determination and love, contacts an old boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) who is now an aide to a powerful senator (Alan Arkin). Convinced the missing man is innocent, the senator intervenes with the head of U.S. intelligence (Meryl Streep). She responds in flawless neocon-speak, simultaneously using terrorism as an excuse for terrorism and threatening the senator with political suicide. Arkin backs off.

Meanwhile, in the unnamed foreign country [where El-Ibrahimi is held], we meet a CIA pencil-pusher named Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has little experience in field work but has taken over the post after the assassination of his boss. His job is to work with and “supervise” the torturer Abasi.

Canadians will, of course, be reminded of the unfortunate Maher Arar. Coincidentally, I misspelled his name when I searched for him, and the first result is entitled “Extraordinary rendition”.

The film has a lot in common with Syriana–multiple plot lines featuring government cover-ups, a large and impressive cast and plenty of violence and torture. It isn’t as accomplished as Syriana, mostly because of a hokey third-act plot trick, and a far less ambiguous attitude toward its subject matter.

Still, I enjoyed it as an exotic thriller, and appreciated the very relevant theme of the fluidity of individual morality. I also liked seeing Morocco again. Much of the film was shot in Marrakech, and, remarkably, one scene was shot in Essaouira, the small town where we lived for three months.

Rendition got average reviews from the critics (Metacritic: 55, Rotten Tomatoes: 47) and, like other films about Iraq, failed miserably at the box office. I can’t wholeheartedly endorse the film, but it’s worth a look.


  1. I didn’t absolutely love “Rendition” but I thought it was unfairly treated by critics. It’s a bit flat in spots but the story is interesting and the film itself is well crafted. I’ve seen better reviews for worse films. I agree, not a hearty recommendation but it’s definitely worth a look.

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