GALA D: Gavin Hood w/ Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal. USA. 120 min. Sep 7, 6:30 pm Roy Thomson Hall; Sep 8, 9 am Ryerson. Rating: NNN
Passionate, politically timely and boasting a cast that includes three Oscar-winning actors and an Oscar-winning director (Hood helmed Tsotsi), Rendition is obviously being positioned as awards season bait. Too bad it's not a bit more artful.
Witherspoon plays Isabella, the wife of an Egyptian-born American (Omar Metwalley) who disappears on a flight from South Africa to Washington, DC. With the help of a former college friend (Peter Sarsgaard) who now works for a senator (Alan Arkin), Isabella discovers that her husband is likely being held in a Gitmo-style compound as a suspected terrorist.
Meanwhile, stone-faced CIA analyst Gyllenhaal gets a first-hand look at the country's interrogation techniques. "This is my first torture," he says, in one of the script's few clever lines.
The acting isn't bad. Strangely, Witherspoon has little to do, but Sarsgaard wisely adds subtlety to his political climber, and he more than holds his own against Meryl Streep's secretive Southern-accented government official who's endorsed the interrogations.
The strongest elements are the bluish-grey tones of the interrogation sequences and the clever narrative structure. But whether that's enough to make audiences embrace this political thriller - so clearly a condemnation of the Bush administration's approach to terrorism - remains to be seen.