From the outset, Gavin Hood stresses that Rendition, his follow-up to 2006's best foreign-language Oscar winner Tsotsi, is not 'politically preachy'. While that may be so, the subject matter is inevitably political and makes for a harrowing two hours that raises fundamental ethical dilemmas about the times we live in.
Rendition received its world premiere at Toronto and will open through New Line on October 19. Shot mostly in Morocco, it stars Omar Metwally as a US-based engineer of Egyptian origin who is arrested in Washington on suspicion of terror-related activities. He is flown to an unspecified North African country and tortured, much to the discomfort of CIA liaison officer Jake Gyllenhaal. Reese Witherspoon plays Metwally's distraught American wife back home.
Hood's stance on 'extraordinary rendition', the extrajudicial practice of moving terror suspects from country to country and extracting information through torture, is crystal clear. 'Right now, we are lawless. But it doesn't change the fact there are no remedies for people caught up in this world.
'I wanted to present the argument from all sides. Meryl Streep's character (a high-ranking US official) presents the argument in favour of torture, and I liked the fact there was an ambiguity in Kelley Sane's script about whether [Metwally's character] was or wasn't guilty. We tried to make it so he's possibly guilty but probably innocent and let people decide. But that's a micro issue. The macro issue is what policies we employ to deal with the new world order we find ourselves in.'
Hood grew up in South Africa during apartheid and knows a thing or two about the lengths to which governments go to suppress a threat. He is bitterly disappointed about the US administration's conduct during the war on terror, and recalls reading the US constitution as a law student at the radical University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
'That was a document to inspire us. It was drafted by men who felt they needed to be rational and set up ground rules to guide us in times of fear. Opponents would say the rules change in times of fear, but there are lawyers like Alan Dershowitz who say that if you have to use torture to find the location of a ticking bomb, at least present an argument that tells us why you're doing this. If the rules are changing, tell us what they are.'
Hood's next assignment is a complete departure. 'We're going to start filming Wolverine in Australia and New Zealand in December. It's going to explore the Cain and Abel story in a grand operatic way. We'll see how (Wolverine's) mutation is the result of deep psychological trauma. We're all mutants after trauma.'