My second Made in Cape Town movie of the weekend was Rendition, the first Hollywood production of South African director Gavin Hood, who won a Best Foreign Language Oscar for Tsotsi. Cinematography was by another high flying South African, Dion Beebe.
“Rendition” refers to the ability of the CIA to detain anyone suspected of terrorist dealings, and then to squirrel them away to foreign countries where they can be interrogated (read: tortured) indefinitely, without the fuss and bother of things like, oh, law, or due process. As the subject matter for a movie, it’s obviously pressingly relevant in these days of covert internment, interrogation and torture, post 9-11.
In Rendition, an Egyptian-American is snatched on the way home from a conference, and his pregnant wife has to try to find out what’s happened to him. The film begins in South Africa, though unfortunately only a few fleeting moments take place in Cape Town, against the gorgeous backdrop of Table Mountain.
The bulk of the action alternates between Washington DC and an undisclosed Third World, Middle Eastern country – which for filmmakers these days means Morocco.
Producer Steve Golin said: “Two years ago, we shot Babel in Morocco, and it’s a very film friendly environment. The King and Royal family are fantastically supportive of filming here.” Hood himself agrees, “One of the other reasons for shooting in Morocco is that it has a tremendously long history of making films. So the film crews and the people that work in film are extremely knowledgeable.” Emmanuel Levy has an interesting article about the filmmakers’ decisions regarding locations.
With such important and current themes, Rendition could have been so Costa-Gavras (his 1982 movie Missing, about the abduction of an American journalist in Chile during the 1973 revolution won multiple awards, including an Oscar and a BAFTA for best script.) In comparison – though it looks beautiful and it means well - Rendition falls oddly flat. The central premise is sunk by a jumble of sub-plots and time lines and melodrama. I really doubt many thrillers could get away with close ups of one of the principles lying motionless in bed, in the dark, crying quietly to herself: Not thrilling.
Leigh Singer’s review at Channel 4 is most brutal, commenting that Hood is “a filmmaker with that sometimes deadly attribute, ‘good taste’.”