Jan 16, 2012

[Movies] Unthinkable (2010)

In the entertainment industry, it's often thought that typecasting for actors is a bad thing for their careers. It limits their growth and ends up dictating the types of movies that they get offered by the studios. And for an actor who really embraces his craft, then that may feel like a bad thing since it stifles potential creative challenges or even artistic freedom.

Then you get those actors who just know what types of roles do well for them and they sort of embrace it. This isn't exactly selling out either - you could still see it as them sticking to what seems to work best for them. And depending on how well they perform with that kind of a mindset, you can't really say how things go except on a per-movie basis, I suppose.

At first this felt like another of those Samuel L. Jackson movies where he gets to be a bad ass character and that's about it. It's a rather one-dimensional character aspect when you think about it and he has so many movies where he does precisely that. And yet the story built around his character and the events that they try to depict really did something for the overall narrative.

Unthinkable is a 2010 thriller / drama directed by Gregor Jordan with a screenplay Oren Moverman and Peter Woodward. It took us a while to get around to watching this movie, especially given it was released to the direct-to-video market, which is understandable given its rather sensitive topic of focus.

The movie begins with Yusuf (Michael Sheen), an American Muslim who is trying to record a statement. It turns out that his video is related to a terrorist plot he has put together, one that is eventually leaked to the media. Thus enters FBI Special Agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss) and her team as they try to track down Yusuf . But the hunt comes to a halt once Brody is called to a local high school that has been temporarily seized by the military for its use. There she is made to watch the full tape detailing his threat to detonate 3 nuclear devices.

Français : Samuel L. Jackson au festival de Ca...
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At the same time, a special interrogator only known as H (Samuel L. Jackson), is brought in since Yusuf has already been captured at a nearby mall. While Yusuf is already being subjected to "conventional" interrogation techniques used in such counter-terrorism efforts. H however goes to more extreme lengths such as initially cutting off one of Yusuf's fingers in an effort to extract the information related to the location of the bombs and other methods that can only be described as torture. Thus Brody is faced with following orders and allowing H to continue or find her own way to convince Yusuf to reveal the information that they need to save countless lives.

Now as early as now I'll go on record to state that the movie does depict various methods of torture that may not sit well with some viewers. It explains why this was a direct-to-video movie instead of your usual brand of major theatrical release despite the generally well-known stars involved in the project. So if you're not comfortable with this sort of thing, then you may not want to watch this movie at all. After all, the title is Unthinkable, so you know that it's going to try to push the limits of what you can stomach as a human being. What makes it disturbing is not how elaborate the torture sequences are - this isn't a Saw movie. It's more about just how probable it is that such extreme methods of interrogation are actually being used in order to safeguard against potential terrorist threats.

Now movie is centered around two general actor stereotypes here. One is the fact that Samuel L. Jackson is a bad ass motherf*cker and Carrie-Anne Moss is a cold, calculating woman who can show softness when dramatically appropriate. And while Carrie-Anne Moss went a little too far to the dead fish range beyond being stoic at times, Samuel L. Jackson was pretty spot on as the creative interrogator H. He was able to demonstrate a sort of resigned acceptance of the fact that he possessed some rather unsavory skills that could be of service to the country despite the fact that what he was doing was still essentially wrong. And he knew that the government that had called for his aid also did so with great reluctance and was more than prepared to cut him loose the moment he was no longer necessary.

I was rather impressed by Michael Sheen's acting abilities though. He showed tremendous range in terms of his portrayal given he had to first be defiant, then cowed by torture and even terrified of the worst. But still he handles each transition with remarkable skill and some of the latter twists in the story totally worked. I think he was probably the best component of this story, especially given he is rather central to the plot.

The story is rather tiring though. It's one long protracted exercise in the audience constantly debating how far is too far. It's questioning to what lengths we should go in order to safeguard the nation from such radical elements as these terrorists, whether homegrown or from the middle east. Will we also torture? Will we threaten their families in exchange for information? It's a classic question of whether or not the ends justify other means, but for the most part it is presented fairly well, despite being a tad heavy-handed in terms of its delivery.

Unthinkable is certainly an interesting movie with a mission, although it's not quite elegant in terms of its execution. Still, it should still get 3.5 instances of Brody trying to stop H over and over again out of a possible 5.

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  1. I love this movie.
    it brings out the consequentialist in some people.

    The former Housemate and I went into discussion how genocide becomes merely a statistic as to murder becomes more intimate, hence making the previous acceptable in certain levels as opposed to the the latter.

    And i'd like to think of it as a form of propaganda on the War on Terrorism by the previous US administration.

  2. Why am I not surprised that you have seen this...