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Most people will agree with director Gavin (Tsotsi) Hood's stance on the indefensibility of "extraordinary rendition" — the practice of sending terrorism suspects overseas for interrogation by foreign governments that don't have a pesky bill of rights, much less congressional oversight mechanisms, restricting their methods. But the lackluster if star-studded melodrama Hood has produced to illustrate that position makes the prospect of visceral engagement an unlikely one.

Reese Witherspoon plays a pregnant mom whose Egyptian-born husband (Omar Metwally) gets sent to an unnamed North African nation for questioning; Jake Gyllenhaal is a CIA observer who quails while watching Metwally get stripped, beaten, waterboarded, and shocked; Meryl Streep plays the southern-accented administration figure who makes excuses for the torture; and Peter Sarsgaard the senator's aide who tries to step in.

There's also a subplot involving the African interrogator's daughter and a young jihadi — all of which probably sounds more intriguing than it is in what amounts to a well-meaning Hollywood position paper.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.