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September 8, 2007   •  Category: "Rendition"0 Comments

Two of young Hollywood’s biggest superstars descended upon the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday to promote what’s already one of the most buzzed-about movies of the 10-day movie marathon.

Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal, rumoured to have become romantically involved when they shot the taut, post-9-11 thriller Rendition last year, sat with two people between them at a packed downtown news conference and weren’t asked any questions about their alleged relationship.

The flaxen-haired Witherspoon, dressed in a black and navy cap-sleeved dress with black patent stilettos, said she was happy to take on the role because of how it personalized the after-shocks of terrorism.

Witherspoon plays the pregnant wife of an Egyptian-American travelling abroad who is detained – and soon savagely tortured – following a deadly suicide bombing that kills a CIA operative. She embarks upon a mission to find her husband as Gyllenhaal, playing a CIA man with a conscience in Egypt, tries to determine the terrified man’s guilt or innocence.

“We become more anesthetized as we see more news and coverage of things that I just don’t connect to anymore … it feels like the suicide bombings are so prolific and sometimes you don’t find the stories of reverberation, and how the families are affected,” said the 31-year-old actress.

“There’s not as much of a human face on these issues, and reading the script, I thought what better way than to have the family members, the spouses, the mothers and fathers and their experiences throughout the film so you really do understand the ramifications of some of these actions.”

Rendition is starkly reminiscent of the case of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar. The Ottawa chemical engineer was falsely accused of having links to al-Qaida as his wife fought for years to have him released from detention in Syria.

Gavin Hood, the South African director whose previous film was the Oscar-winning Tsotsi, said he and Kelley Sane, who wrote the Rendition script, knew about the Arar case as they worked together although the movie wasn’t based on it.

“We were acutely aware; Kelley and I were deeply aware of the case,” said Hood, who lauded the Canadian government for eventually compensating Arar and pointed out the U.S. has refused any compensation in a similar case south of the border.

“Obviously we’d spoken about it a lot and also there were other cases … we’re very aware of those issues and obviously they were very telling for us.”

Hood has kind words for the film festival, saying it launched his career into the stratosphere when Tsotsi won the fan favourite award at the event in 2005. It went on to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film in 2006.

“Obviously Tsotsi was a little film with unknown actors, and Toronto was incredibly good to me … we were just so excited to be at the festival, and then things happened and as a result of the vote from the Toronto audience, suddenly my life changed.”

He still seemed giddy with disbelief that he’d snagged some of Hollywood’s biggest names – including Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Alan Arkin, neither of whom were in Toronto on Friday – to act in an ensemble film. Hood thanked the cast more than once during the news conference.

“I’m still feeling intimidated because I’m not used to this or these guys,” Hood said, gesturing to his cast.

Gyllenhaal, 26, wearing a grey suit with a pale-blue striped shirt, said the actors were attracted to the quality of the script as much as its political message.

“I don’t think choosing something that is overtly political was a choice that any of us had. I think we just said there’s a heart here, we can feel it beating … that’s what anybody wants, what any audience member wants – to find a movie that has a heart in it.”

There was only a brief playful moment between Gyllenhaal and Witherspoon – photographed in late July laughing in a car together amid reports their never-confirmed romance was over – when they each briefly balked at answering a question from the media.

“No, go ahead,” Witherspoon told Gyllenhaal.

“Oh no, you go ahead, ” Gyllenhaal replied gallantly.

“I have a terrible cold, you can have it,” Witherspoon said, coughing and giggling at the same time.

The rumoured off-again-on-again romance between Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal have led some to speculate that it’s all part of a PR scheme to get attention for “Rendition.” The telegenic pair do not appear in a single scene together throughout the movie.

In addition to the pair’s top-notch performances in the film, Rendition also features a terrifyingly callous turn by Streep as a high-level CIA operative who’s determined, in the wake of 9-11, to bring terrorists to justice regardless of monstrous civil rights violations. Peter Sarsgaard is also a standout as a senator’s aide who tries to help Witherspoon’s character.

Source: The Canadian Press

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