Friday, February 15, 2008

Rendition! Out this coming Tuesday, well worth it. (********8/10)

Going into Rendition, I was a little worried. I have read many many reviews suggesting that this film was not a good one. On, James Berardinelli writes: "We are ambushed by a simplistic storyline that's more interested in sermonizing and demonizing than existing in the real world where things aren't as clear-cut as the movie would like us to believe." Richard Roeper says: "I don’t fault Rendition for its liberal politics. I fault it for hammering home those politics in such pounding, slanted fashion." And Todd McCarthy says: "Even [Reese] Witherspoon, normally the most spirited of performers who can inject even limited characters and blah scripts with her own spark, can do little but mope around and search for different ways to look worried." Well, they are wrong. All wrong. Yes, Rendition tends to be a little melodramatic. And yes, it has left-leaning politics, but who can be upset by that? Other than Jerry Falwell? Those politics are indeed heavy-handed, and they are indeed pounded home in a slanted fashion, but then the movie ends, and...are they really?

The critics appear to be divided along the same lines that divide people over Meher Arar. The people who believe he was indeed unjustly imprisoned, and those who think "oh, the government's just doing their job". Rendition is basically a story about a guy much like Arar, who is detained by the American government after a terrorist attack and then extradited to another country to be tortured into giving up information. But does he really know this information? Or is he an innocent man held without trial without any recourse and with no access to a lawyer or a phone to call his wife to say he is OK? And frankly, if this is what happened to Arar, the 10.5 million dollars he got from the government is not even close to enough. People complain, like he won the lottery just for being tortured, but those people are basing their opinions on media reports which are of course conflicting. Very few people would know the real story there. Like, Arar and three government officials. Everything else is conjecture, and having an opinion one way or the other is more than likely based on the opinion of someone who really doesn't know the whole story.

And while Rendition is certainly a condemnation of the American practice of detaining people without trial and throwing due process out the window. But it makes sure that by the end of the movie, there is a certain ambiguity, where the people watching the film can make their own decision about what took place, a decision that more than likely will be based on their existing prejudices. I don't want to reveal the ending here, but it is far more ambiguous than you would assume. Rendition is not terribly complicated, but it treads along much the same ground as the very-complicated Syriana. Think of Rendition as the poor man's Syriana. Whereas George Clooney's movie was intricate and almost inexplicable, (and was, in fact, better than this one) Rendition is far more straight-forward, far easier to understand. But Rendition is thought-provoking in a similar way to Syriana. Even if a man is guilty, is it worth torturing him to find out? If the torture of that one man will create ten more who become enemies of your country?

I agree with Dennis Schwartz, who says that this movie deserves to be commended just for being made. It does. And Reese Witherspoon, who is one of my least favourite actresses, is terrific. As the pregnant wife of the imprisoned man, she hits all the right notes. Yes, she spends a lot of the movie just looking concerned. She's pregnant. It becomes clear throughout the film that she has only so much energy. She works endlessly, but most of the time she is doing this by fighting through intense fatigue, which leaves her with no option but to sit and look despondent. And during the melodramatic scenes, she is believable in that she can all of a sudden get a burst of energy to confront her husband's captors, and her emotions carry her away and she dissolves into a shrieking blubbery mess. But you know, I still believe that. After all, she's pregnant. Jake Gyllenhall could have been better in his role as the American assigned to the interrogation, and I wish Meryl Streep had more screen time as the icy woman in charge of the rendition. And yes, the final scene between Gyllenhall and the torture victim is a little far-fetched and melodramatic.

But these are small quibbles with an otherwise excellent film. I would guess that hard line right-wingers will hate this film, because they will see it as the terrorists winning, or they will see it as questioning something that ought to be beyond reproach. But thoughtful, regular people will just enjoy it for what it is - a thought-provoking, interesting, very good film. I definitely recommend watching Rendition. It comes out from Alliance Films on Tuesday, February 19th.


  1. I enjoy your movie reviews, Eric. I can't say I'd have the patience to sit through all the stinkers you seem to find and write about. It's good to know which flicks to avoid.

    So, are you an "official" movie reviewer? Seems you're always posting about movies before the DVDs are released. Do you go to the theatre a lot or do you receive review copies of these movies from the studios? Is this just a hobby for you, or something you do as part of your radio gig?

    Just curious.

  2. Well, I am an "official" movie reviewer in the sense that I do have a movie review segment on CHEZ, Cynical Cinema at 3:20 in every afternoon (and 8:30 Saturday and Sunday mornings). I write the reviews on my blog first, since there are some movies that never make it to the air, and also since I get a chance to expand a little on the review (Cynical Cinema is only about a minute long) and it helps me organize my thoughts for the on-air review. I do get movies on DVD from certain distributors before they come out in stores, although it has proven difficult to do so through all major distributors. The ones sending me stuff now are Alliance Films, Paramount and Universal.