Until today I never would have believed it was possible to make a boring movie about terrorism and how it's being fought. Seriously. There are so many different issues wrapped around the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the various debates taking place over one facet or another of what the current Administration in Washington is doing, I thought it was impossible to take on a subject like Extraordinary Rendition and make it tiresome and dull.
I was wrong. Not only is it possible, but there is a movie in theaters right now that is proof positive that given a fascinating subject, good actors, and a large enough budget, someone can still come along and wreck it all to hell.
Beans and I went to see Rendition starring Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin , and Peter Sarsgaard. We knew the critics were not wild about this movie, but they weren't crazy about The Kingdom either, and that turned out to be very good. So we took a chance since popular opinion gave the film higher marks than the critics did. What we didn't take into account was that last week Rendition came in 9th at the box office, so even if there was fan support for the movie... well, if only 10 people saw it, does it really matter if 7 out of those measly 10 liked it?
In addition I thought maybe people simply didn't want to pay to see a movie that's essentially about taking suspected terrorists from the United States to other countries like Egypt or Syria for interrogation; countries that use whatever means they deem necessary to get information from terrorist suspects. The movie about Daniel Pearl's abduction and subsequent execution by an Al-Qaeda cell also bombed at the box office, and in spite of a good cast, it seemed like people here just didn't want to revisit that particular event.
But I thought Rendition might be different because there is strong opposition to the Iraqi war, and while no one wants to step up and say they're all for torturing people to get whatever it is we want from them, there are always those who scream loud and long about human rights and how we in the US violate them. I was wrong. For whatever reason, people just didn't flock to see Rendition. Beans and I went to an afternoon showing; there were 2 other people in the theater with us.
Turns out the people who stayed away in droves were smart. This movie really had very little going for it. The major stars in it really had very little to do, and none of them had an abundance of screen time. Reese Witherspoon could have phoned in her performance; likewise Jake Gyllenhaal. Meryl Streep kept forgetting whether she was going to use a southern accent or not, and as a result she didn't seem very well defined even though she played the character with the last word on whether terrorist suspects were shipped to other countries for interrogation or remained in the US.
One bright spot in this mess was J K Simmons who played Lee Mayer, the CIA agent in charge of interrogating suspected terrorists when they are initially brought in. J K Simmons used to play Vern Schillinger on the HBO series Oz, and he was outstanding in that role.
Another good performance came from Alan Arkin. He played Senator Hawkins, and he certainly could have stepped into any senator's spot after seeing his characterization of law makers from that branch of government.
Omar Metwally played the unfortunate Anwar El-Ibrahimi, the man who was suspected of having terrorist contacts since he'd received calls from a known terrorist on his cell phone. It was left to Metwally to be convincing in his denial of any terrorist participation and to do a good job of acting his way through scenes of torture. But even though his was the character around whom the focus of the film revolved, his screen time was limited, and his part was very predictably written.
The point Rendition tried to make was that there are Middle Eastern people being taken off the streets in the United States and detained at unknown places in foreign countries where they are sometimes brutally interrogated. The possibility exists that some of the people who've been taken into custody have actually done nothing to warrant the questioning. They may, in fact, know absolutely nothing about any terrorist activity whatsoever which makes them victims of a horrible practice. But at the same time, those who've been pulled in for questioning may indeed have information useful to those protecting our national security.
Rendition makes no effort to choose a side in this matter either for or against torture as a means to getting information, or the very act of kidnapping people off the street. That would have been fine; I really didn't care whether they resolved the issue of this one man's terrorist connections or left it for the public to decide. What I did find unacceptable was taking a highly sensitive issue and making it mundane and boring. It seems to me when such a volatile subject is presented as a Hollywood film, those in charge ought to at least make the effort to give the public more than tedium and lackluster writing.
The issue itself deserves better treatment than that, and so does the paying public who go to see it.