Saturday, January 5, 2008

How To Disappear In America

There are films that do not contribute to, or advance the art of film in a great way, but still needed to be made. One example is Syriana, a story that really needed to be told. I praised the film when it first came out, and I still think it is relevant to our turbulent times, and will continue to be so, so long as politicians and power struggles exist. It needed to be made because no one was telling the story so emotionally wrenching from the other point of view, although the view it presents is nothing new to those already familiar with news from sources other than the mainstream media like CNN and Fox. But it is new to filmed stories, delving into the political, social and economic causes of terrorism and bringing us the human faces behind the terrorists. The last time a terrorist on film was presented with such humanity and not just as a faceless "evil foreigner" was in Paul Greengrass's United 93.

Rendition, directed by Gavin Hood, who made the Oscar-winning Tsotsi, isn't as interested in the root of the problem as Syriana does, but with its consequences and aftermath. It's also a story about how a blindsided, myopic agenda, no matter how good its intention, will always end in further chaos.

Although partly set in an unnamed, fictional country in North Africa, it's pretty easy to gauge what it's all supposed to reflect, especially when one local is seen carrying a placard that says "America Get Out." The story begins with a suicide bomb attack at a town square, which then consequently leads to the arrest of an Egyptian with a green card flying home from South Africa back to his pregnant wife and son in America. What ensues is a frightening horror story as the Egyptian is made to "disappear," then sent to a torture camp in that North African country.

Rendition is another one of those films that needed to be made because the story has its immediacy. The storytelling procedure is pretty standard throughout, and even easier to understand than the oftentimes convoluted Syriana. But what gives Rendition the extra edge, bringing its emotional quotient up to match Syriana's heartfelt lament about the tragedy of humanity, is a Romeo And Juliet type love story, and a big, big surprise towards the end.

Although the little tweak in the ending may seem a bit like a cheat, it's still a pretty clever way of upping the emotional connection with the characters and giving the audience a big punch to the gut. It also nicely underlines the fact that angry desire often blinds us to the real consequences that may already be happening right before our eyes.

And now we wait for Greengrass's adaptation of Imperial Life In The Emerald City.

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