Idol Chatter

Is it better to harm one person’s life in order to save seven thousand? Or does torturing one innocent person’s life create thousands more enemies?
In the latest string of serious-minded movies (“Babel,” “Crash”) with an important moral, social, and political message, “Rendition” asks these questions as it weaves together various narratives of Americans and Muslims who are all connected to each other.

The movie’s core story revolves around an Egyptian-American chemical engineer, Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) who is suspected of being a terrorist. At a DC airport, he is “kidnapped” by the US government and immediately shipped to North Africa to be interrogated—and tortured—by the country’s secret police. Back home Anwar’s pregnant wife, Isabella (an excellent Reese Witherspoon), enlists the help of Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard), a senator’s aide, to look into Anwar’s disappearance while Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a CIA analyst located in South Africa, is asked to watch and document the torture process. While Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor) leads the torture, his teenage daughter Fatima is rebelling by spending time with Khalid, a teenage boy with ties to the terrorist group Anwar is being interrogated about.
Extraordinary rendition” (a term you won’t forget easily after the movie) is what makes the approved kidnap-and-torture process possible. Under the approval of former president Bill Clinton, the CIA was given the go-ahead to extradite anyone in the U.S. suspected of terrorism to a foreign country and interrogated without due process. Whether this interrogation involves torture or other suspicious tactics remain publicly unknown, but the murky aspects of “extraordinary rendition” is the foundation of the movie. “The U.S. does not torture,” says Corinne Whitman (Meryl Streep), the head of CIA counter-terrorism, when confronted by Alan, but miles away the U.S. is allowing torture–by proxy.
Watching “Rendition,” you are mercifully spared from gruesome torture scenes, but you are not spared from chilling scenes inside a mosque where terrorists meet and espouse sermons laced with lines such as “Jihad is the path to freedom,” “Fight for the cause of God,” and “Wounds of martyrdom in heaven.”
In a time when terrorism is still very real and isn’t fading into the background, the movie doesn’t take sides—instead, it offers sympathetic insights into our daily struggle between right and wrong, between what’s good and evil. Is Corinne Whitman bad for green-lighting Anwar’s kidnap or is she good for making it a goal to keep the country safe? Is Alan Smith good for helping Isabella or bad for eventually turning away when further investigation may damage his career and Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin)? Is Abasi good for preventing more suicide bombings from happening or bad for torturing a possibly innocent person? And, is Khalid good for avenging his dead brother or bad for joining a terrorist group in order to get revenge?
In worlds where it seems everyone is either hiding something while trying to expose something else, the search for truth—the reality—is what’s ultimately important. “Please don’t be the person who turns away,” Isabella pleads to Alan as he sits half-sympathetic and stone-faced, preparing to give up. As characters in “Rendition” search for truth, the movie itself dramatizes truth by “exposing” the US government’s own secrecy and cruelty, making it parallel to the terrorist group’s own secrecy and cruelty. The movie never fails to stop pursuing truth and exhausting as many plotlines and characters as possible to find it. Yet the answers don’t come easily in the movie and sometimes they just don’t come at all; instead, it is the questions asked, the decisions made, and the resources used that are important because they are the steps to finding what we need to know.

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