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Reese Witherspoon in Rendition

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

EXTRAORDINARY rendition is the alleged practice of shipping suspected terrorists to countries for extreme interrogation (generally involving torture) and is something that the US government has been forced to admit to carrying out in the wake of 9/11 (if only under exceptional circumstances).

Gripping new thriller Rendition examines this practice from a hypothetical point of view and from many different perspectives, including the primary suspect himself, his wife back home and the people leading the search for critical intelligence.

When a bomb goes off in a crowded market place in a North African city, killing an American CIA agent, an Egyptian US resident (Omar Metwally) is abducted by intelligence agency officials on his way back into the US, flown to North Africa and tortured for information regarding the identity of the bomber (due to a tentative connection).

While his distraught and heavily pregnant wife (Reese Witherspoon) attempts to discover what’s happened to him, a rookie CIA agent in Africa (Jake Gyllenhaal) must work out whether the suspect has anything to hide.

His task is not made easy by the heavy-handed approach adopted by the chief interrogator (Igal Naor) who has only recently been targeted by bombers himself.

Rendition an emotionally complex film that treats the war on terror with the intelligence it deserves, posing plenty of questions without pretending to know the answers. Rather, audiences are left to reflect on the various issues it raises, such as how far is too far when it comes to protecting a nation, and does torture create more terrorist acts than it averts?

The performances merely add to the compelling nature of the piece, whether it’s Witherspoon’s desperate mother, Gyllenhaal’s conflicted analyst or Naor’s bullish inspector – all of whom provide richly layered portrayals of characters forced to make critical decisions under extreme pressure.

Look out, too, for notable turns from Peter Sarsgaard as a sympathetic political aide and Alan Arkin as his sceptical boss, as well as Meryl Streep as a ruthless CIA chief who just occasionally plays things a little too OTT (rather like she did with her similar role in The Manchurian Candidate).

Director Gavin Hood, who previously directed the Oscar-winning African film Tsotsi, has clearly made the leap to Hollywood with relative ease and keeps viewers hooked throughout with a sustained tension that never lets up.

And while he sometimes struggles to provide each storyline with the time it deserves, he more than makes up for it with a killer twist that pulls the rug right out from under you. It’s a virtuoso moment that lends extra resonance to the remainder of proceedings and which guarantees that viewers are paying attention.

In an autumn that looks set to be dominated by films tackling the war on terror, Rendition brilliantly combines intelligence with excitement to set the standard by which others should be judged. It’s stimulating, provocative and comes highly recommended.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs
UK DVD Release: March 24, 2008