Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Gavin Hood|
|Written by||Kelley Sane|
with Alan Arkin
and Meryl Streep
|Edited by||Megan Gill|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$27 million|
Rendition is a 2007 American political thriller film directed by Gavin Hood and starring Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Peter Sarsgaard, Alan Arkin, Jake Gyllenhaal and Omar Metwally. It centers on the controversial CIA practice of extraordinary rendition and is based on the true story of Khalid El-Masri, who was mistaken for Khalid al-Masri. The film contains similarities to the case of Maher Arar.
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In North Africa, CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is briefing a newly arrived CIA agent in a district when a suicide attack kills the CIA agent and 18 African civilians. The target was a high-ranking police official, Abbas-i "Abasi" Fawal (Yigal Naor), who acts as a liaison for the United States and whose tasks include conducting interrogations and overseeing the application of techniques amounting to torture. Fawal escapes unscathed.
Meanwhile, Egyptian-born Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), a chemical engineer who lives in Chicago with his mother, his pregnant wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) and their young son, is presumed to have been linked to a violent organization by telephone records indicating that known terrorist Rashid placed several calls to Anwar's cellphone. Returning to the United States from a conference in South Africa, he is detained by American officials against his will and sent to a secret detention facility near the location of the suicide attack depicted earlier, where he is subjected to interrogation and is also verbally and physically tortured.
At the same time, Isabella is not informed and all records of his being on the flight from South Africa are erased, although records remain of his boarding the plane at Cape Town International Airport.
For lack of more experienced staff, Freeman is assigned to observe the interrogation of Anwar, whose interrogator in turn is Fawal himself. After Freeman briefly questions Anwar, he is doubtful of Anwar's guilt, but his corrupt boss, Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep), insists that the detention continue, justifying such treatments as necessary to save thousands from becoming victims of terrorism.
Growing worried about her husband's safety, Isabella travels to Washington, D.C. to see her old friend Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard), who now works as an aide to Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin), and pleads with him to find out what has happened to her husband.
According to Smith, Isabella is informed that there was a mix-up in Cape Town and Anwar had failed to board his plane, but she shows him her husband's credit card record, which shows that he made a purchase at the in-flight duty-free shop; this confirms that he was on the flight. Smith slowly pieces together details of Anwar's detention but is unable to convince either the senator or Corrine Whitman, who had ordered the rendition, to release him, or to openly acknowledge that the rendition had taken place. After the senator advises Smith to let it go on the basis that it's not the right time to start debating an extraordinary rendition because he's fighting to have a bill passed in Congress, he gives Isabella a phone number for an excellent lawyer he knows and advises her to call it, but she refuses.
Upon hearing the confrontation from her office, his sympathetic secretary quietly tips Isabella off that Whitman will be visiting the following day. Isabella angrily confronts Whitman and Hawkins before being led out by security, only to go into labor in the hallway.
Eventually, Anwar is able to confess that he advised a man named Rashid on new chemical compounds used to increase the power of explosive devices and was promised $40,000 in return. Suspicious that it's a false confession, Freeman asks where the money is and Anwar replies that it should have been delivered to him in South Africa but the courier never arrived. Freeman's suspicions are confirmed when he has the names Anwar gives traced by Interpol and draws a blank.
A quick Google search reveals that the names are of the Egyptian soccer team from the year Anwar left Egypt. Without the consent of his superiors, Freeman approaches the Minister of the Interior, and presents him with this finding, and also questions whether $40,000 would really be enough to persuade a man whose annual salary is $200,000 to risk his entire life, and that of his family. Freeman quotes Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice while making a point on the value of intelligence gathered through torture:
I fear you speak upon the rack, Where men enforced do speak anything.
Eventually, Freeman persuades the minister to authorise Anwar's release, and sends him back to America via a clandestine ship to Spain. Freeman is contacted by Whitman, who franticly orders him to hand Anwar back to Fawal immediately. Instead, Freeman leaks the tort details to the press that turns into a worldwide scandal, thus ruining Whitman and Hawkins' careers in the process. The film ends with Anwar arriving home and reuniting with Isabella, his son, and the family's newborn baby.
In a parallel storyline, Abasi Fawal's daughter Fatima (Zineb Oukach) has run away from home with her boyfriend Khalid (Moa Khouas). Fatima sees a picture of Khalid's brother, but he does not tell her what has happened to him. Abasi is told that Khalid's brother was an inmate at his prison and later died.
Fatima is unaware that Khalid is a member of a terrorist group until his friends are arrested at a planned march and he leads her to the terrorist group's base. Near the end of the movie, Fatima discovers a notebook that contains pictures of Khalid and his brother together, showing that they were extremely close, as well as a picture of the two brandishing AK-47s, then some pictures of a grief-stricken Khalid standing over his brother's corpse, some pictures of her father, and finally a statement saying that Khalid is doing a deed to avenge his brother's death.
Realising that Khalid's brother met his death at the hands of her father and that Khalid is about to assassinate him, she runs off. It is then revealed that this second story took place before the suicide attack. (From the briefing with the CIA agent in the beginning, it is known that the first story took place after the suicide attack.) At the town square, Fatima begs him not to do it, reminding him that the target is her father (we know that Khalid knows the identity of her father because of his book of history, and also the conversation in the mosque with the terrorist organizer). After removing the pin of his detonator, he hesitates, and is therefore killed by the organizers of the attack. As a result, he releases the handle of the detonator and the bomb explodes, killing Fatima.
In the present, Abasi rushes to Khalid's apartment and discovers Khalid's grandmother grief-stricken over the loss of both her grandsons and Fatima. Abasi then realizes that his daughter died trying to protect him and is filled with grief himself.
The record of a phone call supposedly made by Rashid to Anwar is not explained in the film. However, earlier it was mentioned that phones are sometimes passed on from one person to another in order to avoid phone tracing (the DVD extras explain that there was a subplot dropped from the film that elaborated on this concept). The film's director, Gavin Hood, stated in an interview that the lack of explanation on the call was deliberate, so as to create ambiguity about whether Anwar was guilty or innocent, and to let the viewer decide whether the possibility of his guilt was enough to justify kidnapping and torturing him.
Reviews for Rendition were mixed. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports a 47% approval rating from critics, based on 152 reviews. On Metacritic, the film averaged a score of 55 based on 34 reviews.Roger Ebert awarded the film four stars out of four, saying, "Rendition is valuable and rare. As I wrote from Toronto: 'It is a movie about the theory and practice of two things: torture and personal responsibility. And it is wise about what is right, and what is wrong.'" In contrast, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone applauded the cast, but noted that the film was a "bust as a persuasive drama". Travers declared the film the year's Worst Anti-War Film on his list of the Worst Movies of 2007.