Gavin Hood’s intelligent, chilling thriller attempts to put a human face on the practice of torture, outsourced by the American government to foreign countries so that we can’t be held accountable. Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is a chemical engineer with a pregnant wife named Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) and son in Chicago. He boards a plane in Cape Town, South Africa and is disembarking at the D.C. airport when he is abducted, has a hood put over his head, and is taken away, his name deleted from the passenger manifest. Isabella is concerned, then frightened when she can’t get any answers, which are being withheld by the office of Senator Corrinne Whitman (Meryl Streep), who authorized his extradition to another country for “interrogation.” This interrogation is to be overseen by a young CIA analyst (Jake Gyllenhaal) who survived a terrorist bombing in North Africa only to see his colleague get killed. He and his foreign associates are questioning Anwar about possible terrorist ties linked through his cell phone records. Meanwhile, Isabella employs an old college boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard) to get information, since he’s now an aide to a powerful senator (Alan Arkin). Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”) and writer Kelley Sane have constructed a labyrinthine plot (I haven’t even gotten to the time-shifting sequences following the foreign interrogator’s daughter and her friendship with a young man who may have ties to the bombing) around what is basically a human story; we have the young pregnant American seeking the truth about her husband, we have the husband who knows nothing and who can’t convince his torturers that he is innocent, and we have the pencil-pushing American agent who is forced into an ugly job, who must do it, but at what cost? Still, Hood and Sane’s plot is so utterly complex, and the tone so cold and slick, that it is easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of the human elements. Nevertheless, this is an effective and well-made real-world suspense drama.


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