Director: Gavin Hood
Writers: James Schamus, Hui-Ling Wang, Eileen Chang (story)
Cinematographer: Dion Bebe
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Peter Sarsgaard
Studio/Run Time: New Line Cinema, 120 mins.
Rendition is a feature in the newly arrived genre of multi-stranded international intrigue films. Roger Ebert and Alissa Quart, who originally coined the term, call these films hyperlink cinema and it's in some ways a fitting term for this series of features that began with Altman but seems to have found recent popularity with the works of Alejandro González Iñárritu. What's notable about the feature is that it is one of the first traditional Hollywood films in a genre noted for its success with distinctive directorial visions.
After a bomb launched in a ton square kills a United States citizen, Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is arrested for a supposed connection with the attack. His wife Isabella, played by the shrill as always Reese Witherspoon, attempts to find out what has happened to him through an old friend/lover while on the other side of the world Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself witnessing El-Ibrahimi's torture under CIA order and doesn't know what to do about it. Somewhere between all of this lies a relationship between a young couple caught in the midst of a terrorism camp. As with all hyperlink films these strands meet up in a more conclusive way towards the feature's end, but giving away how is also giving away the plot's end.
The end is itself the film's highlight, as its generally slow first half gradually mounts into a suitably action-filled conclusion. The plot comes full circle in a twist derived from the form of conventional cinema and feels like part of the whole rather than something tacked on in a poor, Shamylan-ish fashion.
Unfortunately, none of this can really save the film from its black and white characterization and too easy solutions to serious international problems. Reuniting Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard, the duo that made Jarhead an underrated masterpiece, is inspired, and both of their characters are the only ones faced with any moral dilemmas. Their choices, though, seem far too directed from the start and the film ends up wasting the talents of several generations of good actors on roles with only one dimension. When a majority of the film's characters seem evil or good without much other motivation, there's a serious problem.
What happens with Rendition, and in fact most less-than-stellar hyperlink films, is that the films' pieces simply fit too neatly. Rather then telling a story with characters growing and exploring the politics of the world around them, they simply take up the roles of well-dictated automatons. Although the film's construction is still in many ways elegant, it ultimately feels hollow from bowing to the weight of its design.
View the trailer for Rendition below: