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Heroes of the Zeroes: Rendition

by on September 10, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Rendition”
Rated R
2007

If Paul Greengrass’s “Bourne” films were topical symphonies of destruction, call Gavin Hood’s “Rendition” their chamber-piece cousin — as compelling and thoughtful, just quieter and calmer.

Hood’s tale of torture in the war on terror had no condemnation agenda, distant fingers pointed at a faraway problem or oversimplification of interrogation techniques. It evenhandedly showed all that torture takes away and builds up, with tricky chronology to evoke surprise and a solemn conclusion — a to-scale “Syriana” with parts snapped into place rather than scattered.

In rare powerless form, Reese Witherspoon is a woman in her third trimester seeking her Egyptian-born husband Anwar (Omar Metwally) — who’s been whisked away to a foreign land on shaky suspicions of terrorist involvement. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a CIA analyst thrust into Anwar’s interrogation, Meryl Streep is the CIA’s cunningly ironclad director and Alan Arkin appears as a play-it-safe senator.

Hood lacks the chutzpah to direct Arkin or Streep toward anything other than variations on past characters. (In Streep’s case, the devil wears an earpiece.) But all of these actors are given verbal daggers not to throw, but more menacingly, hold to each other’s throats. (Gyllenhaal especially impresses, presenting weary, cavernous expressions and a tongue that’s sharp, damning and, at times, funny.)

As ideology pushes the players into impossible corners, lives are irrevocably changed on both sides. With that humanism, “Rendition” issued a mostly unmet challenge to a glut of Mideast terrorism and Iraq war-related films to elicit half as much feeling.

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