By William Wolf


The Iraq war is being fought on a battlefield far from Toronto, but at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, the controversial war was very much on the minds of filmgoers who saw powerful films related to the conflict. Two films especially stood out and generated interest.

“Redacted,” written and directed by noted director Brian De Palma, is particularly powerful. It is based on true events, although adjustments had to be made precisely because of the relationship. The result is a gripping, disturbing fictional story depicting the extreme brutality of a group of American soldiers in Iraq.

De Palma doesn’t excuse the deeds—far from it—but he puts them in the context of the misbegotten war itself by showing the toll it takes on soldiers who have been plopped in the midst of the chaos and slaughter and react accordingly. Not everybody loses moral bearings, but the extent to which men who in other circumstances would behave differently wind up committing war crimes is sharply dramatized.

De Palma’s gritty approach has the ring of a documentary. He shoots on digital video, and the method encompasses interviews, shots on websites, use of contemporary technology in the expression of confessions and opinions and a general attempt to break new ground in revealing the depths of depravity that can result from a depraved war.

“Redacted,” is a tough film to take but an essential one, and among the most important films showcased at the Toronto Festival.

The Iraq War is approached from a different standpoint in the drama “Rendition,” directed by Gavin Hood from a screenplay by Kelley Shane. The film goes to the heart of the Bush Administration policy of seizing terror suspects and sending them to places where they can be tortured, thus sidestepping accusations that American has descended into using torture by acquiring stand-ins.

“Rendition” exposes the hypocrisy in a style that is more traditional Hollywood than De Palm’s documentary-like take. Omar Metwally portrays Anwar El-Ibrahimi, an Egyptian-American who is mysteriously seized and sent to Egypt. His sudden disappearance in the midst of traveling home from a business trip perplexes his increasingly desperate wife, Isabella, played compellingly by Reese Witherspoon.

After a suicide bomb kills an important CIA officer, his coworker Douglas Freeman, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal in another effective performance, takes over for him and is ordered to oversee the interrogation of the secretly held El-Ibrahimi. Freeman gets an education as to torture methods, which go against his beliefs. Convinced that the wrong man is being held, he is confronted with what to do about the situation.

Back in the United States, Isabella sets out to find what has happened to her husband, but is frustrated by the CIA cover-up and the reluctance of an old friend and her senator to get involved when realizing how high up secrecy is guarded. Meryl Streep turns in a tough, nasty performance as the government bitch in control and determined not to let anything stand in way of interrogation by torture.

There is tension and excitement in how all is resolved, and in the process we are dramatically escorted into the results of a policy that abandons the constitutional safeguards that are supposed to exist in the United States. The film in its way strikes a blow against one aspect of what has happened as a result of America’s war in Iraq and the so-called fight against terror.

However, the film is somewhat cluttered by a parallel story involving the daughter of the chief Egyptian torturer and her forbidden love affair with a militant, although it is tied to an explanation of key events that have occurred. But that back story also illuminates conditions involving the repression of women. On balance, “Rendition” emerges as a strong film that impresses both artistically and politically.


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