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Rendition (4/10)

by Tony Medley

Saddam Hussein killed over a million Iraqis. The Taliban kept women in burqas, denied them education, and treated them worse than dogs. Suicide bombers regularly murder people all over the world in the name of Islam. Has there been a Hollywood movie that attacked these despicable actions?

However, there has been a plethora of Hollywood films that have attacked the United States for standing up and fighting such atrocities. Rendition, directed by Gavin Hood and written by Kelley Sane, a male model and photographer, is but the latest, but probably the most devious and biased. Despite the clumsy bias and the  POV, this is a well-acted, beautifully filmed (the Director of Photography is Dion Beebe, who is, for my money, the best in the business), entertaining thriller by Hood, whose last film was Tsotsi, which won the 2006 Oscar® as Best Foreign Language Film, and deservedly so.

The title comes from the term “Extraordinary Rendition,” which allegedly occurs when the United States captures someone it suspects of being a terrorist and turns the person over to a country whose laws, or lack thereof, allow, or countenance, torture in order to extract information about possible terrorist attacks.

Although the United States has never admitted that it practices rendition (it was first brought to the public’s attention by muckraking New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh, who rarely has anything good to write about the way America acts), the way it normally would happen, if it did, would be for someone, generally a combatant in the war on terror, to be captured abroad. He is then transferred into the possession of the other country and transported there. The person generally has no relationship with the United States and has no presence in the United States.

Egyptian-born civilian, Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), working for 20 years in America on a Green Card and married to a 9-month pregnant American, Isabella El-Ibrahimi (Academy-Award-winning Reese Witherspoon), is arrested on American soil when he returns on a flight from South Africa. Anwar is spirited away to another country and subjected to torture, on the orders of Corrinne Whitman (Meryl Streep), the head of the CIA, who clearly wears the black hat in this film. There is no nuance to Streep’s interpretation of Whitman. She is clearly an unsympathetic, cold-blooded villain.

Rather than being even-handed, producer Steve Golin clearly is on one side of the issue, saying:

“I think a large majority of us are willing to accept that if there is imminent danger that will affect the lives of thousands of people, one likely way to get information out of someone who holds it is through forcible coercion. On the other hand, the United States government has, over its history, in cases of war and emergencies, abandoned civil liberties. I think by exploring this issue we are letting it be known that there is a reason for the Geneva Convention and that there are laws to uphold, because, in the long run, that’s what makes society work. And I think by abandoning those things we are going down a dark path.”

Despite Golin’s blanket allegation, I’m only aware of two instances in American history where it could be claimed that it “abandoned civil liberties.” Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeus Corpus during the Civil War, and Roosevelt imprisoned Japanese-Americans during WWII, an action upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, a court composed entirely of democrats appointed by FDR. Where else has the United States acted in a way that could be described as “abandoning civil liberties?”

Second, Golin’s reliance on the Geneva Convention is misplaced. Most of the people who have been subjected to extraordinary rendition do not fall within the protection of the Geneva Convention because they are not uniformed soldiers of a combatant. In order to get around this and to exacerbate the film’s anti-Americanism, Golin has manipulated the facts in order to influence the audience to adopt his POV.

In order to be sure he has the sympathy of his audience, he positions the person captured as a long-time legal resident of the United States. Further, the victim is married to a blonde American who is 9 months pregnant. My understanding is that there has never been an event of rendition alleged against such a sympathetic subject, but Golin wants to make his point.

Apologists for the tone of the film, like Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Douglas Freeman, a CIA operative who oversees Anwar’s torture, on ABC’s Live with Regis and Kelly, point to a speech that Whitman makes to Isabella’s friend, Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard), who is an aide to Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin) as he tries to help Isabella. Whitman says when weighing the rights of one person against 7,000 people who might be killed by a terrorist act, she will choose the 7,000. But, because she is such a black hat, and because she says it in such an argumentative manner, dismissing the concern of a distraught wife who is 9 months pregnant, the argument is clearly something that the audience will view with distaste.  This is not a fair presentation of an opposing point of view.

This is a biased presentation of the problem. There is not a shred of even-handedness here. To make matters worse, the story is convoluted, with a time warp introduced at the end that causes the viewer to become unbalanced.

Had Golin & Co. wanted to make a serious film questioning the morality of extraordinary rendition, they could have complied with the facts. They could have a person who is clearly a terrorist be captured and subject to torture in order to get him to reveal a terrorist plot, with the fate of hundreds, or thousands, dependent on the outcome. Will he talk? Is it moral to torture him to get him to talk to save innocent lives? These are legitimate questions that are fair subjects for dispute. But Golin has stacked the deck so that there is no place for legitimate debate in this film.

I am unaware of a film that has come out of Hollywood that adequately indicts how Islamic Jihadists subjugate women, how they kill and maim their fellow Muslims without pity, one that emphasizes the horror of the terror they are spreading throughout the world, and how their vicious attacks affect the victims and their families. No, instead, in film after film Hollywood chooses to demonize the United States, the one beacon of freedom in the world, which has dedicated itself to ridding the world of this terror and to freeing as many people as possible.

Some filmmakers, like Dutchman Theo Van Gogh, have been murdered for telling the truth about what is going on with these medieval terrorists. Hollywood apparently doesn’t have any filmmakers with that kind of courage.

October 18, 2007