Among the many headlines of misprisions, malfeasance and malefaction is the news that Congress will likely not stand in the way of the President being able to eavesdrop on anyone at anytime with no oversight whatsoever, in addition to the claimed right to “disappear” anyone, anytime, if they have been dubbed “enemy combatants.” (To paraphrase Albert Brooks in “Modern Romance,” “You’ve heard of a no-win situation, haven’t you? Iraq, this.”) South African director Gavin Hood made his name with the Oscar-winning “Tsotsi” (2005), with its visceral evocations of the lingering effects of apartheid-era repression. His first U.S. picture, “Rendition,” is an attempt to make honorable drama out of the terrible reality of “unlawful rendition,” or the kidnapping and “disappearing” of alleged evildoers. (We can thank the Argentinean generals for the “disappeared” coinage.) Nominally a dramatic vehicle for Reese Witherspoon, as the wife of a naturalized Egyptian citizen who is taken into American custody, “Rendition” is instead a canvas, the smaller parts of which are more successful than the whole, yet it bursts with facets of fury. Note Meryl Streep as the functionary who intones, “Put him on the plane,” and J.K. Simmons’ plaintive “Yes, ma’am”; Peter Sarsgard as a Senator’s assistant with pangs of conscience; Alan Arkin, fabulous as the pragmatic senator who becomes inflamed by the political risks; Jake Gyllenhaal as analyst-turned-torturer. Hood’s upbringing was in the photographic realm, and there are images here that are serene yet baleful: Witherspoon’s character, pregnant, falling in a corridor with the Capitol building behind her; the small executive plane taking her husband, with a black hood atop his head, to hell, veering small against a mountain rage like construction paper cutouts, grades of dusty, brown-to-red dusk. Sorrow, but also hope, permeates “Rendition.” 120m. Anamorphic 2.40 widescreen. <i>(Ray Pride)
“Rendition” opens Friday.