You may remember a few weeks ago I reviewed Clooney vehicle Michael Clayton, which involved a few groans at the preceding trailers that hinted at films full of that deep American guilt about terror wars et al. Well, Rendition was one of those films, the big guilt-factor being that fun new rule where suspected “terror” people can be magically whisked away to an off-shore “interrogation” area without a drop of paper signage or any of that other stuff that brings some semblance of order to the world. We all know Bad Things have been happening, even people like me who try not to read the papers anymore due to the warped nature of all media nowadays (except this, loyal readers. No warping of facts here. Just blunt, ill-educated yet pretentiously-presented opinions.)
Anyhoo, Rendition’s plot spine is the abduction - sorry, “interception” - of Omar Metwally, and the impact of this event on a whole fistful of people, from a rather gaunt looking Reece Witherspoon (the wife who wonders where the hell her hubbie’s gone) to lovely Jake Gyllenhaal experiencing his first time as an American “interrogator”, to interrogator Abasi and his battle to keep his daughter Fatima under control and avoid assassination, to Fatima’s boyfriend and his friends who have an unsettling knack of convincing people to blow themselves up. Peripheral to all this is Reece’s lawyer friend (Peter Sarsgaard) probing where his career suggests he shouldn’t, and head of the interceptors Meryl Streep, whose decision it is to ‘intercept’ Omar in the first place.
A heck of a lot going on, then, and an impressive handling of the multiple plot strands, each major character getting their turn, and each story just as riveting as the next. Will Reece get any answers? Is her husband guilty? Can Jake take the pressure of this kind of interrogation? Will Abasi find his daughter? And will the boyfriend be convinced to do something pretty stupid? You will want to watch to find out, and there are some craftily unexpected direction-changes to spice things up a bit. Couple that with an excellent cast, a good moral-testing concept (the torturers claiming to have saved hundreds by extracting information in such a way - but the success rate suggesting many innocents have also been questioned) and lovely Jake (superb as ever) and you’re on to a winner.
Or are you? For this multi-stranded flick has a bold angle, but a few niggling faults. Meryl Streep’s character is, like Tilda Swinton’s in Michael Clayton, a Token Bad Old Woman in Charge. A role we’ve seen her play many times over. Not a shimmer of humanity flickers behind her icy stare. She represents “the Man” - soulless, uncompromising. Even when she defends her actions she does it with a little pitchfork behind her ear (honest). It’s unashamedly lazy characterisation and is an annoying reminder that this could just be one of those Hollywood films pretending to be big and important when actually they’re bland early Saturday evening fillers.
The multi-plot tactic is also a little unstable. It’s a little like having a tray full of peas and spending an hour and a half carefully balancing all the peas on the tray, making sure each pea is nice and stable. Then in the last half hour suddenly ignoring a few of the peripheral peas and letting them fall off, then eventually just tossing the whole tray in the air and going to make yourself a cup of tea.
But despite the peas and token Evil Head Woman factor, this is still a tight, enjoyable film with some good issues and a great cast. Gripping, but leaving less of an impression than it probably should have, Rendition hops in with a CF1, missing out on higher marks because I can barely remember what happened (never a good sign) except for the bits with lovely Jake in. Oh he’s so lovely. Sorry - I’ll stop.