This is America. We do not torture people. But sometimes we send prisoners suspected of ties to terrorism to places where they do torture people. That is what happens to Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), a chemical engineer who moved to America at age 14, attended NYU, and is now married to Isabella (Reese Witherspoon), who is pregnant with their second child. He calls to tell her that he is on his way home from a conference in South Africa and then he just…disappears. No one will acknowledge that he was even on the plane, but credit card charges for in-flight duty free show that he was there.
Isabella flies to Washington to get help from Alan Smith, a college friend (Peter Sarsgaard), who works for a senator (Alan Arkin). While they tries to find out where Anwar is, he is being tortured by Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor), with the local CIA official Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) as an “observer.” Back in Washington, smooth, steel Magnolia Corrinne Whitman (Meryl Streep), who oversees this “rendition” program for the CIA, insists that Fawal do whatever is necessary to get some answers from Anwar. When Smith tells her he will have a copy of the Constitution sent to her home, she snaps back that she will have a copy of the 9/11 report sent to his. It’s ends/means time again, and both sides feel righteously indignant.
Fawal’s daughter Fatima (Zineb Oukach) has run away from home to escape an arranged marriage. She is staying with her boyfriend, Khalid (Moa Khouas). The fate of the young couple become entangled with the fate of the prisoner and the “observer” in a surprise twist that drives home the vicious cyclicality of terrorism and torture.
As Hollywood tries to make sense — or at least drama — from current events, it is inevitable that the early attempts will seem cardboardish and melodramatic. This one is way ahead of the jingoistic commando raid “The Kingdom,” but the seams are showing and the characters are one-dimentional. It is still more idea than story.
Parents should know that this film includes very graphic torture and terrorism scenes, many people injured and killed, non-explicit sexual situation and non-sexual nudity, drinking, smoking, and strong language.
Viewers who see this film should talk about the way that the collision between the core principles of due process and the devastating consequences of terrorism has led to a series of difficult and controversial choices. How do we maintain our traditional notions of freedom, justice, and equality and address the needs of national security? Viewers should examine reports like this one, this one for more information.
If you like this, try: The Siege, Z, and Missing.