This is a masterpiece. It's a cri de cœur against an America gone astray. For those out there who know that something is very, very wrong with the US this is the movie for you. Everything that's stinks with the War On Terror, particularly its uncaring failure to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent, is distilled here into the story of a single individual's suffering under a mad machine run amuck. Rendition re-establishes Hollywood's credentials as a humanist force-for-good.
Or that's what they'd have you believe. Of all the above statements, only one sentence is true - this is a masterpiece. It's a couldn't-be-bettered, word-perfect example of how to harness right-thinking discontent, subtly colour it with pre-established racist precepts, and dissolve it into little more than minor quibbles with the bureaucratic failures of an otherwise necessary war on Arabs.
The Good Arabs
Right-thinking people know that there must be some good Arabs. And here we see one. We know he's good because he's shed almost every aspect of his Arab heritage and is the living embodiment of the American Dream. He gives successful 'presentations' and people congratulate him in Americanese - Good Job! His wife is the suitably blonde Reese Witherspoon who completes the picture of the perfect American couple. Admittedly the un-Arab's Mother looks a bit ethnic, what with a scarf over her head, but only momentarily so (and even then, is vaguely Whistler's Mother-ish). This scarf is the single visual clue that our good Arab is still a little bit foreign, albeit by way of his mother - perfectly forgivable. However, as the movie progresses and it becomes necessary to reinforce his American-ness the head scarf becomes superfluous and we never see the mother as anything other than bare-headed, which is to say 'normal'. As everybody knows, those who put anything on their head, apart from a baseball cap or a stetson, are to be feared.
The other good Arab is the poor duped daughter of the Police Chief. We know that she is good because she goes against her stern traditional father and sleeps with a boy. In Jewish Hollywood it is right that children not listen to their parents and behave wilfully. Somehow this is admirable. It's even taught to little kids in Disney movies like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. The constant message - You are smarter than your parents and right to disobey them. According to Hollywood any culture that is not permissive and frowns on pre-marital sex is obviously backwards and wrong. Steeped as we are in Jewish culture, when Rendition shows us an Arab girl rejecting a tenet of her culture and jumping into bed with a fellow her family will certainly (and rightly) disapprove of we think 'Good for her!'
The Bad Arabs
Apart from the two above, they're all bad Arabs. The opening scene sets the tone with the people on the street shown as madly gesticulating jibber-jabberers. Durka Durka! (Ha, didn't we love Team America? Dick Cheney's favourite movie!)
Otherwise a plurality of the Arabs in Rendition are terrorists, which is to say Those Who Hate Us For Our Freedom. And being so refreshingly free of logic or common sense, it stands to reason that they are idiotically incompetent. In attempting to assassinate the daughter's Police Chief father, rather than walk up to his table at the outdoor cafe and put a revolver to the back of his head, they send a bomber to kill everyone in the square. As proof of their wickedness they have a rifleman in position to shoot the 'suicide' bomber in case he gets cold feet. Um okay, but since we have a rifleman there why not get him to shoot the Chief of Police? D'oh! He can't shoot straight. Bloody Arabs! They can't get anything right.
Meanwhile back at the madrassa, the evil blank-eyed leaders tell their soon-to-be-evil blank-eyed followers (featuring the daughter's boyfriend) that Zionism is very wicked and therefore they should attack Americans and their agents, ie. the Chief of Police. In this regard, our Hollywood-imagined terrorists precisely resemble our media-imagined Al Qaeda. The talk is anti-Zionist but the action is anti-everyone-but.
The feature Arab villain is the girl's father/Chief of Police played by Yigal Naor. He's a hell of an actor and has a golden future playing Arab villains. He's an Israeli, you know. In Rendition, he's shown as a good family man and loving with his youngest child. But! He's a torturer! It just goes to show - you can't trust an Arab. Thanks Yigal! And lest we be confused, his cruelty is made perfectly clear to us by having the film's conscience, Jake Gyllenhaal, sit in as our innocent American un-Arab gets tortured. Gyllenhaal's character is squeamish and wonders at the victim's guilt. The torturer has no such second thoughts. It seems he took the Americans, who delivered the victim to him precisely for this purpose, at their word. The movie of course makes no such suggestion - that's just me. However, through Rendition's camera, and Yigal's performance, it's clear that Arabs are cruel and pitiless. Not like us.
In the Police Chief's favour it should be said that he merely had the wrong Arab. He should have spent more time torturing the local Durka Durka Arabs and less time torturing the American un-Arab. This is made clear to us with the second torture victim, the madrassa buddy of the daughter's boyfriend. His torture was definitely worthwhile. The spot-on information gleaned leads the Chief precisely to the terrorist house where his daughter was. But he's too late. If only the father had followed Kiefer Sutherland's dictum of 'Torture Early, Torture Often' he'd have been in time to save his daughter from becoming red mist. Says this film - Torture works. It just depends on whom you do it to. Torturing innocent Americans - Bad. Torturing guilty Arabs - Good.
The Bad Americans
Sorry, that was a typo. There's actually only one. It's Merryl Streep and curiously, as the villain of the piece, she's defined in a cinematically ambiguous fashion. In cinema, to establish the precise 'here's who to hate' mindset in the audience, purpose-written scenes will be inserted. As a for-instance, think back to the original Star Wars. Remember the torture scene - Darth, Leia, and a hypodermic robot thing? That sequence served no purpose by way of the plot and was merely there so that we might understand exactly how wicked the bad guys were. Ha! Those were the days! No longer. Hollywood now spits out shit like 24 to convince us of the rightness of that which used to be the hallmark of evil.
That Streep has no such establishing scene is not an accident. Indeed upon being confronted by the ever brilliant Peter Sarsgaard (see Shattered Glass, coming soon), who's helping Witherspoon find her husband, Streep is given the opportunity to spout some utter bullshit about 7000 British being alive today thanks to citizens being denied their rights, or tortured, or something. And nobody calls her on it, nobody says bullshit, nothing. Hmm... maybe she's right. Maybe torture is good. Yeah? Get fucked!
The Good Americans
I include here a senator, Alan Arkin, and his aide, the aforementioned Sarsgaard. They're sort of helpful, until they wimp out that is. This too is dealt with ambiguously. It's intended that we view their actions as, if not forgivable, certainly understandable. Perhaps they have a mortgage, so who can blame them? Holiday homes in the Hamptons don't come cheap, you know. Either way, cinematically, they get off very lightly. They did their best and really it was none of their business anyway. And maybe the Government is right and the un-Arab is a terrorist?
Um... what's missing here? Let's put it this way - If this film (which pivots on the veracity of the War On Terror) can't find the thirty seconds to bring up the rampant lies regarding Iraq's WMD's, then no Hollywood film ever will. Perhaps there weren't any lies about WMD's? Perhaps we dreamt it.
Actually, there's only one good American, the ever redoubtable Jake Gyllenhaal. In this film he is us. We see events unfold through his eyes and he/we react accordingly. His disillusion charts our own. When he's had enough and throws away his career by freeing the un-Arab and alerting the Washington Post (ha ha ha ha, no really!) we sigh in relief knowing we've done the right thing. If we were in a movie that's what we'd do too. With his actions our imagined moral rightness is confirmed. We are white people and, between white people and a sea of wicked coloured people, we know who'll stand up and do the right thing. Us.
Tear your eyes away from the screen for a minute and ask yourself - Where is this phoenix? This fabled creature of legend? This virtuous white man? Nowhere - just like the simple and obvious truths that could redeem the United States of America as it lumbers down the road to hell. It's not easy keeping these truths obscured. An iron grip must be maintained. The propaganda must have a single voice, even that spun for those who would oppose it. Especially for them.
And there you have Rendition. A reinforcement of all the racist, war-mongering neocon propaganda dressed up as its very opposite. You can't help but be impressed. Rendition is a bloody masterpiece.