(2007)3Derek ArmstrongIn the fall of 2007, while famously shunning movies about the Middle East and the war on terror, American audiences missed at least one really bracing and original work. Gavin Hood's Rendition may bear a surface resemblance to the home-and-abroad political wranglings of Syriana, but it's actually a better companion piece to Taxi to the Dark Side, shedding light on tactics that came to dominate political debate on the definition of torture. But Hood's structurally tantalizing film is more than just a scolding case study of a possible enemy combatant (Omar Metwally) who gets imprisoned without due process. At least as interesting is the crusade for information by his exceedingly pregnant wife, Isabella (Reese Witherspoon), as she negotiates the slippery political infrastructure of Washington, including a senatorial aide and former boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) who weighs Isabella's righteous cause against his own career prospects. The moral shades of gray of the Washington figures (who include Alan Arkin and Meryl Streep) are echoed in their Middle Eastern counterparts, who see justice and righteousness through their own prism. Political dramas with multiple storylines often stumble over their own ambitions, but Kelley Sane's script stays upright. She maintains focus on a handful of central characters as well as a plot that's ultimately simple, despite some brilliant narrative surprises it would be a shame to spoil. Films like these rely on the storylines meshing in a cathartic way, and Rendition hits a home run in that respect. Among a host of strong performances, Jake Gyllenhaal stands out for his rattled intelligence agent walking through a ghost of an existence. Rendition may be a more conventional piece of filmmaking than Tsotsi, Hood's striking 2005 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, but it confirms Hood's status as an exceptionally talented craftsman -- one who deserved a theatrical audience.