A man came out and introduced a woman who came out and introduced Gavin Hood who came out and introduced the key players of the film. After the behind-the-scenes peeps, the actors came out.
First Jake (far left; click to enlarge)...
And so on until the stage filled up. Then they all filed off stage and Jake tripped. Awkward! He recovered nicely, though, and sent a cautionary pointed finger to the guy behind him.
Then the lights went off and we were plunged into a series of commercials for (of all things) the Toronto Film Festival. Dudes, it's OK. You sold us already. We're here.
And then the movie started. By the time it was over, I already knew how this review was going to go. Give me a movie this serious, and I'll give you an analysis even more serious, bitches!! So sorry if you're not into the heavy stuff. But I have some thoughts I'd like to express...
The best thing about seeing Rendition at the Toronto Film Festival is that I never have to see it again.
Don't get me wrong; it's a really good movie. Brilliant in fact. It's earnest and well-made and well-acted. However, it left me depressed and uncomfortable, and did so without giving me the satisfaction of knowing that my response was the result of a genuine connection to what I'd seen unfold on screen. The many plots, the many storylines...everything is emotional, but nothing is personal. This movie left me with tons of questions, just not about the practice of extraordinary rendition. Instead, I wondered about the movie itself. Was I supposed to feel sympathy for the suicide bomber? I don't know. I was too busy being lectured on the values of his culture to get a full portrait of him. Was Douglas Freeman's reaction to what he was witnessing supposed to be transitional? I don't know. I was too busy being shown his barely-contained disgust to catch a glimpse of any of his other emotions. How about the torture scenes? Gritty, graphic, extremely explicit (although not gratuitous)...was that to convince me torture is wrong? Was that what I needed convincing of? Maybe I'm not the right audience for this film.
Rendition takes itself so incredibly seriously that its self-importance is distracting. There were times when I was taken away from the story because I was blinded by the overwhelming "This is IMPORTANT!" message being broadcast in every way imaginable. True, the subject matter of the film is important and serious, but the biggest problem with this movie is that it confuses itself for the message. For me, that's what caused the questions I walked out with. If so much time and effort hadn't been put into making sure this movie was Serious, then maybe more time could have been spent on the fact that this is a movie, an art form ultimately successful based on entertainment value.
The black-and-white morality issues presented in Rendition are far too clear-cut to inspire any sort of debate. Hey, I get it. This is wrong. But the weight of the movie makes it feels a little like I'm being punished for agreeing with the filmmakers. I'm already against it, so why make me uncomfortable? Also, the all-too-neat converging plot lines fit together in movie-magic perfection, but if the story is supposed to be realistic, why rely on the convenience of trite predictability? Surely there are countless compelling true stories that could be told, or even fictional ones that don't tie together in a neatly unrealistic way.
So, I had some problems with it. That's not to say that as a piece of art, it didn't work. Overall, Rendition is a beautifully done film; it looks good from all angles. It's perfect in its execution, but flawed in its conception. No doubt it is impressive, but the balance between art and politics was not one that I, personally, found most effective. (I say this knowing that everyone I was sitting with in the theater will disagree with me.) Amidst the Important Message, it forgot that it's "just" a movie. Ironically, remembering that would have probably made the Message more accessible. I just don't see a film this self-aware attracting a large audience.
And now that you've been onslaught by my heavy-handed analysis of a heavy-handed movie, let's get to the good stuff!
***MAJOR SPOILERS AND TONE SHIFT BELOW*** Highlight to read. The sex scene portion (in which there is no actual sex) is marked in case that's all you want to read about. ;)
Non-sex scene starts here.
The movie opens with a quick teaser starring Reese and Omar. After the word "Rendition" fades in forebodingly, we're treated to...shirtless Jake! Like, seriously, five minutes in and he's already taking his clothes off for us! It's a trick to distract us from the horrors to come, but we don't know that at this early juncture.
After groaning a bit in early morning lethargy, he drags himself out of bed (boxers only) and makes out with a woman in a towel in the bathroom. This girlfriend of his wins the award for Least Developed Character EVER. She just randomly pops up to fondle Jake and do his bidding at the office. They work together, you see. "His bidding" in this sense is meant as in, "he is her boss," and not, "he calls her for nookie at lunch." Anyway, back to the making out...
Jake kisses her. A lot. She tries to leave (unrealistic though that may be) but he kisses her some more. Is his hand going to a naughty place up her towel? Yes...but on the side of room where the camera is NOT! Why would they do that to us?! Tease. While he's kissing her, he says, "Seriously, stop kissing me." I crack up; she leaves (unrealistic though that may be). It's the second best line in the movie.
And ends here.
Immediately after that, Jake and some dude are riding in a car when a bomb goes off. Some Dude dies (not before ruining Jake's shirt) and what? Some Dude was, like, the top guy in this region for the CIA? Next thing you know, young and impressionable Jake just got himself a promotion (Meryl Streep sees his picture and asks, "What is he? 12?"). Jake's girlfriend brings him a new shirt. And gum.
And so that's how Jake came to oversee the torture operation on Reese's husband, who was detained because...I have no idea. It's never really explained. I think that's to bring home the point of the wrongness of rendition, but as witnessed by the first half of this post, I wasn't really in need of yet another hit over the head with the Hammer of Important Movie Messages. But don't worry; Jake does not do the torturing. He just watches in horror and occasionally offers weak protests.
I didn't watch hardly any of the torture scenes (or the brutal violence scenes), but the sounds alone were nauseating. I literally left the theater sick to my stomach. If you are sensitive to such things (as I am), be prepared to be upset.
I believe Jake is supposed to go through a transitional period where he gets more and more unnerved by what he's witnessing, but he pretty much goes straight from completely unnerved to totally unnerved. We know this because he drinks a lot. Meryl Streep (the head honcho) calls him up one time while he's drinking and asks how he's doing. He responds, "This is my first torture." And that is the best line of the movie.
There is one other sexy scene about halfway through the film. Jake comes home and his girlfriend starts groping him. He's really distraught/distracted but tries to get into the mood by grabbing her, picking her up, and throwing her on the bed. He goes at it for all of two seconds before rolling off of her in defeat. This is another Important Clue that Torture is Bad. It ruins sex for even the casual observers.
This role is very, very different for Jake. He's commanding and way Alpha Male, unlike anything else he's ever played. Of course, he pulls it off flawlessly. Not flawless? His hair! I know half of the known universe thinks it's the greatest thing ever, but I'm opposed to it. Honestly, though, I couldn't focus on it all that much because I couldn't watch half of the scenes Jake was in (due to the torture content).
Lastly, there is a twist at the end of the movie which will make it worth your while to pay very close attention to the differing plot threads. And that's all I'll say about that. But Oscar material? I'll just say it's probably the best Jake's ever done. He is amazing. If they're giving out awards for this one, he definitely deserves a piece of the action.