Hollywood has a go-to method for tackling major geopolitical problems: Stick an all-star cast into several parallel story lines, throw in ethnic supporting actors for authenticity’s sake and infuse the whole shebang with self-seriousness. That may sound callously reductive, but it’s hard not to be cynical after sifting through the diluted Syriana-isms of Gavin Hood’s multicharacter melodrama. Whether or not you agree with its limousine-liberal simplification of complex moral arguments, the film’s formal familiarity suggests that Rendition has been built primarily for Academy consideration. You’d swear the whole production was assembled via a Message-Movie Mad Libs.
Get your scorecard ready: After a suicide bomber decimates a North African plaza, an Egyptian-American (Metwally) is detained at Dulles Airport and clandestinely shipped out of the country for “interrogation.” His pregnant wife (Witherspoon) enlists a congressman’s aide (Peter Sarsgaard) to track down her husband. Meanwhile, a rookie CIA flunky (Gyllenhaal) is being initiated into the ways of coercing information (“This is my first torture,” he admits). His superior (Streep, in matriarchal gorgon mode), coincidentally, ordered the man’s imprisonment. And there’s also this young martyr-in-training…
Multiple perspectives are a must for subjects like national security in the murky post–Abu Ghraib age, but what good is a mazelike plot structure if the participants all seem lost within it? Everyone appears to be acting in different films: Streep’s serpentine performance suggests corporate satire, while Witherspoon’s uncharacteristically shrill histrionics tip the scale toward TV movie-of-the-week. The only consistency is Hood’s misguided notion that earnestness alone equals humanism and Oscarbait sound bites equal Big Picture journalism.
Cast and crew