Monday, January 26, 2015

Couple of DVDs

Caught up with a movie from 2007 called Rendition, the other night. The word 'rendition' means, in the US anyway, the practice of sending a foreign criminal or terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated (read 'tortured') in a country with less rigorous regulations for the humane treatment of prisoners. 

Which is what happens, except that the man sent to the foreign country, is more likely an innocent victim of some phone-tapping, and has nothing to do with any plots or terror activities. At least that's how it seems. We have our doubts at times, as we should in such a movie. But there are no doubts about the horrific treatment to which he's subjected, much of which unfolds before our eyes. 

That's only part of the story. In the same foreign country (it's never named, but it's inhabited by Arab citizens) a group of real terrorists have just attempted to kill the man who does the interrogating. The local CIA agent is killed in the blast, and his job falls into the lap of an inexperienced pen-pusher played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who gradually begins to feel more than a little queasy about what is happening.

Meanwhile at home the suspect's wife (Reese Witherspoon) is frantically trying to find out where he's vanished to - he was supposed to be flying home from Africa but she's been told he wasn't on the flight. Via an old boyfriend, now working for the Government, she confronts Meryl Streep, the stony-faced woman who's in charge of such counter-terrorist operations. You don't want to have to confront Meryl Streep in one of these roles.

And then there's a third story: that of the young people involved in the actual terrorism. Thankfully all these threads are clearly laid out and easy to follow. At least you think so, until you find towards the end of the movie that one of the stories is actually a flashback. This seemed a bit unnecessary, though it made a sort of dramatic sense. But it confuses the viewer initially, and at that stage of the movie that's probably not what you want to happen.

Otherwise this is an excellent movie, with sharp performances from a top-quality cast. It won't endear you to the CIA or to American foreign policy; but maybe you were not endeared to that already.

We also caught up with a three part British murder mystery called Place of Execution. This was for the most part a watchable piece, with lots of good performances in it, including Juliet Stevenson and Lee Ingleby. The ending was a surprise, certainly, but perhaps a little unlikely.

In the story a youngish girl living in a village some forty years ago goes missing while out walking her dog. The local police - with Lee Ingleby as the relatively new, but very earnest detective - get onto it fairly quickly, but to no avail. The girl isn't found. Other unpleasant things come to the surface however, and in due course what seemed to be a straightforward murder case turns out to have a very nasty bent to it. Meanwhile Juliet Stevenson in the present day is a TV journalist trying to complete a story which includes re-investigating the murder and interviewing the now aged detective. Something goes awry with the last interview, and Stevenson's character discovers more about her past than she wants, and that her childhood was entwined with the original event.

For the most part the actors managed to overlook the occasional bit of tosh in the script, and to give the scenes the level of intensity they required. It probably could have played out over two episodes, in fact, but...

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