Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Hollywood deals with the War on Terror! Or their version of it. Several years too late - that is just late enough to have no real effect - chickenshit Hollywood, with films like 'The Kingdom', and the upcoming 'Lions for Lambs', finally capitalises on all that free publicity. 'Rendition', is the current flavour of the Middle-East in our cinemas.
It is an enjoyable, if ultimately callow film, telling of an Egyptian, with an American family, spirited away by the CIA to a 'North African' torture chamber. They suspect him of aiding terrorists, rookie agent, Jake Gyllenhaal, has doubts, while wife, Reese Witherspoon, tries to get some answers about her husband's whereabouts. Coupled to this is a subplot about the chief torturer's daughter and her forbidden romance with a student who might not be all he appears to be.
This is a solidly told tale, even accepting a cheeky play with narrative linearity very late in proceedings. The cast too are solid and, this being an ensemble piece, there are nice turns by Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Peter Sarsgaard, Witherspoon, and Gyllenhaal. Special kudos have to go to the large Arabic contingent of the cast who are uniformly excellent. Yes, all in all it is unlikely you'll be asking for your money back.
However, taking it as a stab at explaining a complex situation (like 'Syriana') would be a mistake. Without giving too much away, the movie chickens out on its very raison d'etre; torture. There are very strong cases to be made for and against forced interrogations, but 'Rendition' doesn't make them. Disappointingly it refuses to explain the discontent driving extremism too, instead blandly using torture as a chicken and egg argument for general Arabic dissatisfaction. No doubt police brutality and America's hypocritical use of torture on its supposed enemies may fuel the fire, but they weren't the match and they're not the oil sustaining the blaze.
This is all hardly surprising. This is mainstream Hollywood after all, with mainstream Hollywood stars and mainstream Hollywood money. The film shows moral complexity in some of its characters (the police chief, for instance), but still must have its unambiguous villains. So we have Streep's CIA chief, a hard-nosed pragmatist determined to push the law to the limit (and beyond) to get the job done (not unlike the Tilda Swinton character in 'Michael Clayton). We also have the fundamentalist terrorist leaders who look like they're straight out of 'Team America - World Police' (I half expected them to speak in Durka-Durka). We don't need to have rational reasons for terrorism, when the ultimate criminals, like these, are so obviously inhuman. ( 'Syriana' did a better job in this respect given its constraints.) It is also worth noting that, with the exception of Streep, the Americans are painted in a very favourable light; CIA agents 'reluctantly' set about their work; senators are willing to fight the system - just 'not this time!';rich law students are always willing to help each other. (It is also worth noting that wealth is something of a label of integrity in this movie. Wouldn't it be fun if Witherspoon's character was white trash!)
All in all then, an entertaining piece of work, but more sound and fury signifying nothing than the deep, political work it pretends to be.



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