Nothing if not timely, "Rendition" arrives days after the Supreme Court said it would not take up the case of an innocent German who claimed he was abducted by the CIA and tortured in a secret prison in Afghanistan. This is what happens to Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-American chemist whose pregnant wife (Reese Witherspoon) wonders why he never got off the plane from Johannesburg back to Chicago. The CIA has whisked him off to a prison in the Middle East, where the suspected terrorist is tortured for his alleged role in a suicide bombing. His brutal interrogation is witnessed by a young CIA officer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who grows increasingly uneasy with this miscarriage of justice.
"Rendition" raises all the right questions about the government's use of the War on Terror to trash the Constitution and trample on individual liberties. It's a story that needs to be told: it's just unfortunate that director Gavin Hood ("Tsotsi") and screenwriter Kelley Sane are the ones who tell it. Their outrage is genuine, but their methods—whacking the audience with blunt instruments—are remarkably similar to those of their villains. Dramatically turgid, "Rendition" wastes Witherspoon in a small role as the frantic wife—who, to give an example of Hood's delicacy, conveniently goes into labor just as the Capitol looms behind her. Gyllenhaal has little to do but mope ineffectually. ("This is my first torture," he moans, though perhaps he's reflecting on his bad career choice.) Meryl Streep is the quietly ruthless CIA bigwig who orders up Anwar's "extraordinary rendition," and even she can't find many shades in this bureaucratic zealot. "Rendition" manages to take an urgent, important topic and turn it into standard Hollywood melodrama. What a waste.