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Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Peter Sarsgaard, Alan Arkin, Omar Metwally, J K Simmons

Director: Gavin Hood

An unexpectedly torpid expose of a little-known aspect of US counter-terrorist policy - the abduction of American-based foreign nationals deemed to be a threat to national security, and their dispatch to secret prisons in the Middle East for interrogation and torture.

All very well in some cases, one supposes, but naturally the film is interested in a miscarriage of justice.

The victim is Egyptian-born Anwar (Metwally), who has an American wife (Witherspoon) and son, and has lived in the US for 20 of his 34 years. Thanks to a mix-up in cellphone calls, he's seized at Washington DC Airport returning from an (innocent) trip to South Africa - can't believe the film employed a big crew to actually shoot a tiny scene there - and the record of his presence on the flight expunged.

He soon finds himself at the mercy of the relentless Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor), who is investigating a terrorist-inspired explosion and has problems of his own with a missing daughter.

Anwar's pregnant wife enlists the help of a friend (Sarsgaard) who assists an influential senator (Arkin), but his attempts to get at the truth are blocked by the CIA chief (Streep, as impressive as ever) and he's told to back off.

Meanwhile, the local CIA agent in North Africa (Gyllenhaal, unsuited to the role) becomes increasingly uneasy at the unmerciful torture of what may be an innocent man.

This story must have seemed fascinating on paper, but that's not the way it plays out. There's a twist at the end, but it scarcely does anything for the impact of the film, while mournful music and too many long pauses between dialogue are hardly designed to keep us awake. When an under-used Witherspoon says 'I'm so tired', one's inclined to reply 'Aren't we all?'

David Quinlan

USA 2007. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Colour by deluxe.
120 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 18 Oct 2007