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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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"Rendition": Too puppy-kicking perfect?

From Dee York:

I love your movie reviews. I am a better consumer of movies because of you. I know what to expect when I read your reviews. There are times when you don't recommend a movie but because of your description I feel that it is something that I might like anyway. Other times the converse is true. I often avoid certain movies you recommend. Thanks to your reviews I know what I need to know. Your final recommendation is not the most important part of the review. I never went to film school and my knowledge and understanding of movies is a product of self-education. I feel smart when we enjoy the same movies.

That brings me to your review of "Rendition." The only reason I grabbed it off the shelf was because on the back of the box you were quoted as saying "This movie is perfect" (I should have read your full review). Message movies disappoint me most of the time. I don't trust them. Too often those who create movies manipulate every aspect of the story to the ends of the message. I hate being manipulated. These movies fail when they avoid life's messy ambiguity. This movie was perfect but not in the sense I think you intended. It was a perfect fabrication. Who is the perfect actress to elicit sympathy? The perfectly cute all-American girl Reese Witherspoon. Making her 9 months pregnant kicked up her sympathy factor to a sickly level.


The husband was another perfect construct. A handsome, successful Egyptian national who is harmless and obviously innocent, at least to the movie-goer. He just happens to wave a handful of red flags to a zealous government looking for terrorists. He is a chemical engineer. He travels regularly to Africa. He left Egypt in his teens and never became a US citizen. Each character was meticulously constructed to the ends of the overall message of the movie. Meryl Streep's character was ridiculous. She was the perfect stereotypical puppy-kicking conservative. For me everything was too perfect and not very honest.

I have a very different world view from Hollywood generally speaking. That makes it hard for me to find good movies sometimes. I realize that I have biases too. I'm okay differing with people but expect them to be honest. I expect honesty from artists. Are innocent people disappearing from U.S. airports? Is there a real-world situation on which this movie is based? Maybe I am ignorant but I can't think of a news story that paralells this movie. I'm sure the media would have got the word out, especially if the wife looked like Ms. Witherspoon. It would be more honest to make a movie about the detainment and torture of an actual terrorist. That has happened.

The movie "Crash" was an example of a movie that painted people as being both bad and good. It was a more honest movie because of it. The creators of "Rendition" avoided reality for the sake of their message. For the movie's creators the goal was the message that American's are capable of doing this to innocent people. If the tortured man was guilty too many people might not get that point. Torturing guilty people for intelligence might be wrong and it might not work but it is not the same thing as torturing innocent people. Does anyone really believe that CIA agents have the time and energy to torture they are not convinced are guilty of anything? My guess is that they have their hands full with all the people they have caught actually doing terrorist activities. I didn't want to argue about torture rather I wanted to make the point that this movie is not fair, honest, or even effective.

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