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Jake Gyllenhaal, Rendition

Sam Emerson/newline.wireimage.com

Review in a Hurry:  A fascinating and topical subject—the personal and political costs of U.S. torture policies—is roadblocked by a stale subplot that does more than slow the movie down; it dilutes its message. But wow are there some good actors in this.

The Bigger Picture:  It was only a matter of time before the vicious debate over torture got the big-screen treatment. Rendition stars Reese Witherspoon as Isabella, the wife of an Egyptian man who has lived legally in America for 20 years. Hubby Anwar (Omar Metwally) makes an unfortunately timed business trip to South Africa, setting off a stunning chain of events.

Anwar's trip coincides with a suicide bombing in North Africa, and his identification as both an Egyptian citizen and a chemical engineer sets off a host of red flags. Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep), the hard-core head of terrorism for the CIA, insists on "extracting" information from Anwar. It's not torture, mind you. The U.S. of A. doesn't torture. Rather, the U.S. ships suspects back to the country where the crime was committed, and that country's secret police torture them. Got that?

It's quite an eye-opening lesson on extraordinary rendition, a recently enacted (under Clinton, not You Know Who) policy that allows the U.S. to extradite foreign nationals under suspicion of terrorism.

This examination of homeland security should fill up all of the 120 minutes of Rendition, but writer Kelley Sane saddles it with the obligatory "it starts at home" terrorism subplot in North Africa, immersing us in terrorist cell meetings and a young girl's downward spiral into dangerous romance.

Director Gavin Hood spends many laborious moments dealing with this B-plot when the movie should be moving at a much brisker pace. Similar subject matter has been covered in depth and far more thoroughly in other films; Rendition is about, well, rendition, and the intriguing personal and political consequences of Anwar's capture are not given their full due.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  A lot of great actors are caught in this brewing storm, including Streep, Peter Sarsgaard as a senator's aide, and an impressive Jake Gyllenhaal, perfectly cast as a young CIA analyst in way over his head.