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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rendition

Longtime readers will have to excuse my rambling for a moment but for those who have found this column only recently, I feel obliged to explain an important tenet of my delusional belief system. You may on occasion hear me refer to some delicious piece of manhood as “my future ex-husband.” Trust me when I tell you that for them it is a badge of honor, and for my current-and-always-perfect hubby, it is an agreed upon understanding that should I cross paths with Hugh Jackman, Ewan McGregor, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Marsden, Tom Welling, or David Tennant then our marriage is officially annulled until I, like the proverbial spider, have drained said captured celebrity of all his bodily fluids and left him a brittle husk of his former self. Then, once I have enjoyed the pleasures of being “Mrs. Celeb” for only that night, I shall cast him away like the heartless bitch that I am and return, satiated and yet still full of love to my one true darling hubby.

I explain this to you because this weekend I went to see the film Rendition, now at the Essex Cinemas, which stars my future ex-husband Jake Gyllenhall. I often wondered if I things would stand a better chance for us if I told him my name was Graace, since he and his family have an obvious attraction to those “double a” names. Look at sister Maggie. She married Jake’s best friend and frequent co-star Peter Sarsgaard. I’m surprised they named their baby daughter Ramona (although it does have two a’s) and not something like Aailyah just to torture her completely. As it is now, she already has to face life with the moniker Ramona Gyllenhall-Sarsgaard. She’s going to have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by the second grade just from writing her name in penmanship class. But back to Jake.

Jake stars in this very topical feature as CIA analyst Douglas Freeman stationed in North Africa and forced by circumstances beyond his control to participate in an assignment he had not anticipated nor was prepared to approve.

This assignment involves the “interrogation” of an Egyptian-born American, Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally; Munich) who was snatched by a pair of faux police officers as he de-boarded a flight from South Africa to his home in Washington DC, and taken to a secret detention center somewhere in the DC area for questioning. When that intense questioning brought no results, El-Ibrahimi was put on a flight to Africa and given to local authority Hamadi (Hassam Ghancy; Zaïna, cavalière de l'Atlas) for a brand of questioning George W says the US never, ever does.

Meanwhile, El-Ibrahimi’s American-born wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon; Walk the Line) and eight-year-old son Jeremy (Aramis Knight in his big-screen debut) have been left waiting at the airport with no idea of where their loved one is. The airline claims he got on the plane, and then says he didn’t. No one wants to help her, so she sucks it up and visits the only person she knows with an “in” when it comes to politics, her ex-boyfriend, the one she dumped to marry Anwar instead. Alan Smith (guess who? Peter Sarsgaard; Jarhead) promises to do what he can after she shows him proof that Anwar was on the flight, but he soon learns that politicians aren’t always interested in going after the truth when it might interfere with bigger issues, like re-elections and prestigious cabinet posts, thus making Isabella’s job all the more frustrating.

Her biggest frustration is played with icy perfection by Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), channeling all her Prada bitchiness with an even greater sense of animosity to the “little people.” You’d have thought her character, Corrine Whitman, had learned charm at the knee of Leona Helmsley. As the head of the CIA, she controls all the information about possible Americans held for questioning as terrorists, but she refuses to even acknowledge recognizing El-Ibrahimi’s name and she has no interest in talking with Isabella about the case. We, of course, know that she is the very one responsible for his tort— er, extreme interrogation.

Rendition is a huge, yet disjointed movie, as it bounces around in three directions at once. Besides the tied-in stories of Anwar and Isabella’s different struggles, there is a third seemingly unrelated story about young Muslims in love with Fatima (debuting Zineb Oukach) and Khalid (Moa Khouas; also from Munich) as a teenage couple who are forced to hide their love because of her disapproving father. Abasi Fawal (Yigal Naor; surprise! also from Munich) has already chosen a suitable husband for his daughter and sees no reason for her to visit with any boys yet alone date one. Their story is set in the same African town where Freeman is working, but they are seemingly not tied to him and yet their story plays an important element in the grand scheme of things which affect everyone in the picture, which becomes clear when a scene shown early in the film is replayed later in the movie from another angle and pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

As much as I cherish my future ex-husband Jake, I can’t say this role was a “wow” for him as it put him in the awkward position of having to be both torturer, er, excuse me, extreme interrogator and the public’s conscience. Jake is much more believable in the Jiminy Cricket conscience role than in the tortu--, um, interrogator role, though he does make it clear he is uncomfortable being put in that position due to his job. Still, it doesn’t give him much to do but look unhappy throughout the film and maybe yell once in a while.

Reese Witherspoon is pretty much wasted considering her enormous range of talent in her role as well. She can play the worried-out-of-her-mind wife with her eyes closed, and she only really looks engaged in her one scene with Ms. Streep, who, as always, lights up the screen with her iridescent albeit venomous presence. The producers could probably have saved money and gone with a lesser known actress and nobody would have complained, though I imagine the principals here did this film because of their own personal principles and their wanting to bring voice to their disgust over US policy to allow tor—extreme interrogation.

The real surprises here are Oukach and Khouas, who imbue their tale with moments of simple love that cross cultural bounds and make their dilemma of parental disapproval as easy to understand as that of Romeo and Juliet. When the love story unfolds to reveal itself to be much more than just what it appears on the surface, the adrenalin begins to pump throughout the audience. It is unfortunate that this excitement comes so late in the last reel of the movie because until then the only real tension comes in the scenes of tor—duly authorized by the President of the United States, CIA approved interrogation. Odd, though, the scenes look an awful lot like scenes out of one of those Hostel movies, if you ask me.

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