Reviewed by: Val Kermode

"By opening up his story Hood may reach a wider audience and this is a subject which certainly cries out for more attention."

An Egyptian-born chemical engineer, Anwar El- Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), is returning from a conference in South Africa to his family in America. His wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) and young son are waiting for him at the airport. But he never appears. He has been taken off the plane and into detention by the CIA, who suspect him of being linked to terrorism. He is then whisked away to a North African country, thrown into an underground cell and subsequently tortured. His “crime” is that calls have been made to his phone by a known terrorist. He is a victim of rendition.

Isabella, heavily pregnant, desperately tries to track him down by going to Washington, where she enlists the help of an old friend (Peter Sarsgaard) who is aide to a senator. They learn that the woman pulling the strings is Corrine Whitman, head of terrorism for the CIA (sharply played by Meryl Streep), but she denies all knowledge of El-Ibrahimi.

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Meanwhile a CIA analyst (Jake Gyllenhaal) is sent as an observer to the prison where El-Ibrahimi is being held. As he witnesses the brutal interrogation he is forced to question his assignment.

This is a powerful film which grips throughout most of its 122 minutes. Gyllenhaal is well cast as the CIA man, in over his head (“This is my first torture case”) and Sarsgaard is excellent as the friend treading a political tightrope. Hood clearly knows where he stands on the policy of rendition. But instead of taking us deeper into the serious debate about this subject, he introduces a subplot about a daughter and a suicide bomber which allows the film to lose some of its pace. In the last 15 minutes events rather stretch credulity as ends are tied up. But questions remain. Was El-Ibrahimi completely innocent? Was his confession totally false? Should it make any difference to how we feel about his treatment?

By opening up his story, Hood may reach a wider audience and this is a subject which certainly cries out for more attention. On the day of this film's release, in the real world, a Canadian civil engineer claimed he was arrested at JFK and taken to Syria where he was tortured. An official spokesman supported the policy of rendition.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2007
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After a man is disappeared by the government, his wife fights to save him and a CIA analyst questions the morality of his job.
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Director: Gavin Hood

Writer: Kelley Sane

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Omar Metwally, Peter Sarsgaard, Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, Yigal Naor, Mohammed Khones, Zineb Onkach, Rosie Malek-Youan, Aramis Knight

Year: 2007

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/South Africa


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