Thursday, April 17, 2008


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.


kikz said...

g'day noby...

i'd wondered how this would be treated.... when i saw the runners on tv...back when it first came out in the us...

i mean it was a given, 'we' would be portrayed as somehow noble for our efforts. bleh:P

ya know what the kicker is?

99 out of 100.. you ask an american what extraordinary rendition is... you get the same blank stare as when you question them on DU.
or any real details of 911.

just not on the radar.
you get the 'victor dog head tilt' followed by alarmed commentary that.... gee 911 was a loooong time ago, why are you still worrying about that?

(insert theme from twilightzone)

i'm leaning to an elitist view... ya hafta take a test to legally drive... why not to breed or vote?

i know that's totally whacked.. got any better ideas? >:)

nobody said...

Hey kikz,

You ain't grooving on the world today, huh mate?

Hmm... maybe the driving test is the odd man out? Maybe personal transport capable of going a 100mph and cities and towns that make no sense without it are the problem? Ever heretical, me.

Otherwise I'm about to post something about as apropos as I can be over on the church blog. Ciao.

the Silverfish said...

Firstly let me apologize for this very long cut and pasted comment, it’s cut & pasted simply because I could not have said it better than was said by Robert Fisk in Nov. last year. Also as a Canadian with some knowlege of the case against Mr. Arar let me asure you and your readers that the evidence against Mr. Arar was totally bogus. Also that the R.C.M.P were completely complicit in this crime against an innocent man. Thank you for your post on this topic. the Silverfish

At university, we male students used to say that it was impossible to take a beautiful young woman to the cinema and concentrate on the film. But in Canada, I've at last proved this to be untrue. Familiar with the Middle East and its abuses – and with the vicious policies of George Bush – we both sat absorbed by Rendition, Gavin Hood's powerful, appalling testimony of the torture of a "terrorist suspect" in an unidentified Arab capital after he was shipped there by CIA thugs in Washington.
Why did an Arab "terrorist" telephone an Egyptian chemical engineer – holder of a green card and living in Chicago with a pregnant American wife while he was attending an international conference in Johannesburg? Did he have knowledge of how to make bombs? (Unfortunately, yes – he was a chemical engineer – but the phone calls were mistakenly made to his number.)
He steps off his plane at Dulles International Airport and is immediately shipped off on a CIA jet to what looks suspiciously like Morocco – where, of course, the local cops don't pussyfoot about Queensberry rules during interrogation. A CIA operative from the local US embassy – played by a nervous Jake Gyllenhaal – has to witness the captive's torture while his wife pleads with congressmen in Washington to find him.
The Arab interrogator – who starts with muttered questions to the naked Egyptian in an underground prison – works his way up from beatings to a "black hole", to the notorious "waterboarding" and then to electricity charges through the captive's body. The senior Muhabarat questioner is, in fact, played by an Israeli and was so good that when he demanded to know how the al-Jazeera channel got exclusive footage of a suicide bombing before his own cops, my companion and I burst into laughter.
Well, suffice it to say that the CIA guy turns soft, rightly believes the Egyptian is innocent, forces his release by the local minister of interior, while the senior interrogator loses his daughter in the suicide bombing – there is a mind-numbing reversal of time sequences so that the bomb explodes both at the start and at the end of the film – while Meryl Streep as the catty, uncaring CIA boss is exposed for her wrong-doing. Not very realistic?
Well, think again. For in Canada lives Maher Arar, a totally harmless software engineer – originally from Damascus – who was picked up at JFK airport in New York and underwent an almost identical "rendition" to the fictional Egyptian in the movie. Suspected of being a member of al-Qa'ida – the Canadian Mounties had a hand in passing on this nonsense to the FBI – he was put on a CIA plane to Syria where he was held in an underground prison and tortured. The Canadian government later awarded Arar $10m in compensation and he received a public apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
But Bush's thugs didn't get fazed like Streep's CIA boss. They still claim that Arar is a "terrorist suspect"; which is why, when he testified to a special US congressional meeting on 18 October, he had to appear on a giant video screen in Washington. He's still, you see, not allowed to enter the US. Personally, I'd stay in Canada – in case the FBI decided to ship him back to Syria for another round of torture. But save for the US congressmen – "let me personally give you what our government has not: an apology," Democratic congressman Bill Delahunt said humbly – there hasn't been a whimper from the Bush administration.
Even worse, it refused to reveal the "secret evidence" which it claimed it had on Arar – until the Canadian press got its claws on these "secret" papers and discovered they were hearsay evidence of an Arar visit to Afghanistan from an Arab prisoner in Minneapolis, Mohamed Elzahabi, whose brother, according to Arar, once repaired Arar's car in Montreal.
There was a lovely quote from America's Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff and Alberto Gonzales, the US attorney general at the time, that the evidence again Arar was "supported by information developed by US law enforcement agencies". Don't you just love that word "developed"? Doesn't it smell rotten? Doesn't it mean "fabricated"?
And what, one wonders, were Bush's toughs doing sending Arar off to Syria, a country that they themselves claim to be a "terrorist" state which supports "terrorist" organisations like Hizbollah. President Bush, it seems, wants to threaten Damascus, but is happy to rely on his brutal Syrian chums if they'll be obliging enough to plug in the electricity and attach the wires in an underground prison on Washington's behalf.
But then again, what can you expect of a president whose nominee for Alberto Gonzales's old job of attorney general, Michael Mukasey, tells senators that he doesn't "know what is involved" in the near-drowning "waterboarding" torture used by US forces during interrogations. "If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional," the luckless Mukasey bleated.
Yes, and I suppose if electric shocks to the body constitute torture – if, mind you – that would be unconstitutional. Right? The New York Times readers at least spotted the immorality of Mukasey's remarks. A former US assistant attorney asked "how the United States could hope to regain its position as a respected world leader on the great issues of human rights if its chief law enforcement officer cannot even bring himself to acknowledge the undeniable verity that waterboarding constitutes torture...". As another reader pointed out, "Like pornography, torture doesn't require a definition."
Yet all is not lost for the torture lovers in America. Here's what Republican senator Arlen Spector – a firm friend of Israel – had to say about Mukasey's shameful remarks: "We're glad to see somebody who is strong, with a strong record, take over this department."
So is truth stranger than fiction? Or is Hollywood waking up – after Syriana and Munich – to the gross injustices of the Middle East and the shameless and illegal policies of the US in the region? Go and see Rendition – it will make you angry – and remember Arar. And you can take a beautiful woman along to share your fury.

nobody said...

Thanks silverfish,

I have to be honest with you mate, I have big doubts about Fisk. He perpetually targets Syria. And sure enough he did it here too. He never lets an opportunity go past.

Sure enough, with the Hariri bombing he threw cui bono out the window and immediatly pointed the finger at Syria. In spite of the fact that the Syrians up and left Lebanon in two days. Why kill the guy who'd turned Lebanon into a thing worth having? And why leave? He stated he saw the Syrians wandering around the crash site picking up bomb bits. For him this was proof that they were involved. Huh? Wouldn't any investigators do precisely that? And honestly the only ones with anything to gain were the Israelis.

I once asked him at a public talk he gave what he could tell us about Englishmen caught in Basra dressed as Arabs with a trunkful of explosives. A ripple ran through the audience but he changed the subject quicker than you could blink. His response makes even more sense to me lately given that the two 'Englishmen' were in all likelihood, no such thing.

Think about it. There was zero fuss in the UK and no one ever came forward and said, 'I know those guys'. How is that possible? I reckon it's possible because they were Israelis, pretending to be Englishmen as a fallback in case their cover as Arabs was blown. Either way Fisk didn't want to touch it.

And sure enough, in this article Fisk reinforces the film's message. The point of my 'review' was to shoot down the film's pretence at opposition. If Fisk piles in and says, 'Attention Right Thinking People! Here is the film for you!' and has another bash at Syria while he's at it, it merely hardens my view that he's a variation of a limited-hangout disinfo merchant. Well meaning perhaps. Or perhaps not. Who knows?

... said...

You point our everything that is wrong with this film and what makes it a masterpiece, and you're absolutely right.

I am really enjoying your writings. My film reviews, though usually focused on the Hollywood blockbusters, are few and far between these days, ever since I started to look deeper into the 'shapers of our reality' through several blogs, and began to understand what they revealed to me. It's one of the reasons why I started my SignificanceofR blog.

I find it hard to watch any movie these days without seeing the propaganda and deception which therefore makes it almost impossible to review as a normal film critic. (If you know what I mean?)

You are being added to my list nobody!

aka Marty