I first heard of Unthinkable via Jim from Movie Mobsters. It seemed like a good, if rudimentary, action flick. I was wrong. Describing Unthinkable is a bit of a difficulty. I suppose it is an action flick though the actual action in it is slight and fleeting. It would probably like to think of itself as a psychological drama, but it’s too obtuse to be given than moniker. Samuel L. Jackson stars as H a man specialising in torture of alleged terrorists who makes them confess. The job, in reality and on film is harrowing and not one that makes for easy watching. Yet, it’s not the premise of Unthinkable that prevents it from being enjoyable. Regardless of my reservations on Tarantino’s violence porn in Inglourious Basterds the man knows to make the distressing irreverent. Gregor Jordan doesn’t. In fact, I don’t think he wants to make Unthinkable fun because he seems to be directing the film in earnest.
The conflict of the film arises in Yusuf, an alleged terrorist who may or may not have planted some nuclear bombs in various malls. I’m unsure of the filmmaker’s intent in having Michael Sheen – who does not strike me as a Muslim Iraqi, Iranian or Indian – play this role. Has Islam turned this man crazy? Was he always like this? I’ve been waiting for Sheen to get the role that takes him from the diverting “that guy” to a legitimate star. This is not it. Not that he doesn’t try, but there is only so much one can do with such a histrionic role in a film that’s so disturbing and not at all well intentioned (from where I’m sitting at least). I’m unsure if the writers were trying to make some larger statement by having Yusuf be the de facto villain immediately because of his Muslim roots, although it's possible I'm overthinking the dynamic. Still, their work seems largely uninspired.* Even in rare moments of lucidity when Yusuf identifies that his alleged actions are no worse than America’s it feels like a narrative thread that has already been milked for all its worth. In this confusing sequence Carrie Anne Moss is left to be the moral compass of the film, which is an unenviable task when we’re unsure what its intent is. Luckily, Moss does a good job. Of the three leads she’s given the most inconsistent role but easily outshines all – which is a bigger compliment than it seems in such a film.
It has been said of another pseudo thriller this year, Green Zone (pity how that credible effort has become forgotten), that it would have been better if it had excised the Middle East plotline and worked as a simple thriller. The same could be said of Unthinkable. It’s not smart enough to be taken seriously, but it’s too disturbing to be considered irreverent. It commits one of those cardinal movie sins in thinking that it has more to offer than it does because when the number of dead bodies are counted and all the booms have ceased you’re left there wondering – what’s the point? Perhaps in some effort to leave us with a feeling of anxiety Jordan misguidedly chooses to leave the audience hanging with an interesting closing shot.** But by that time, I wonder if anyone really cares what happens.
* Sadly it seems it was written by the same Oren Moverman who penned I'm Not There and the excellent The Messenger.
**Apparently this particular ending was not shown for the Americans. Go figure.