Genius Products // 2005 // 112 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // March 21st, 2006
They never saw it coming...
...but most of us did.
There are some days you just wish you had stayed in bed. Chicago advertising executive Charles Shine (Clive Owen, Gosford Park) knows that feeling all too well. He's running late, missed his morning train, caught the next one without a ticket, and has no cash to pay for it. Just as Charles is about to be unceremoniously booted from his morning commute, a sultry good Samaritan by the name of Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston, Friends) comes to his rescue. Perhaps his luck is about to change.
Not bloody likely.
Arriving late to work, Charles finds he's lost one of his biggest accounts. Returning home, the situation is no better. His daughter Amy (Addison Timlin) is battling Type-I Diabetes. His marriage to Deanna (Melissa George, The Amityville Horror (2005)) is, at best, tenuously strained. And yet, the appearance of Lucinda has an odd effect Charles. The once loyal and loving husband/father is on the verge of an illicit affair with this mystery woman -- an affair that ignites a series of events that will make him realize his old life wasn't all that bad.
While watching Derailed for the second time, Daniel Powter's song "Bad Day" kept creeping into my head...
Sometimes the system goes on the blink
And the whole thing turns out wrong
You might not make it back and you know
That you could be well oh that strong
In the classic Hitchcockian sense, Charles has suffered a run of bad days -- and it's only going to get worse.
Based on the novel of the same name by James Seigel, screenwriter Stewart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) and Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (Evil) have taken elements of Hitchcock classics -- North by Northwest (advertising man drawn into a mysterious web of intrigue assisted by a strange and beautiful woman), The Wrong Man (money for a loved one's medical condition), Psycho (a hotel where bad things happen), Strangers on a Train (for obvious reasons) -- and woven them into the tale of an emasculated man desperately trying to reclaim his life under the most terrifying of circumstances. On paper, its supercharged suspense captures and holds your attention right to the end. On film, it doesn't translate as well as you might expect.
The mark of a good story is the level of investment you have in the main characters. By the end of Derailed, the only person you truly care about is a secondary character with very little screen time.
Charles lives in a dark and depressing world where everything is drudgery. Life sucks at home. Life sucks at work. There's no escape. He's Charlie Brown, complete with a little black cloud that follows him everywhere. Clive Owen is an accomplished actor, but lacks the charm of a Cary Grant or the tenacity of a Bruce Willis necessary to realize Charles' full potential, and a sense of humor needed to balance out the darkness.
Lucinda is at once a confident, flirtatious woman and a frightened, tormented victim. From a believability standpoint, the disconnect between the two is, at times, difficult to reconcile. Some might say the circumstances she and Charles endure are enough to push anyone over the edge, but I tend to think both the character and the performance are a bit overplayed. One scene in particular, which should have been her most emotionally intense, actually garnered a few chuckles from the audience. However, give Jennifer Aniston credit for tackling a role so far outside her comfort zone.
Deanna is a one-dimensional, overwrought afterthought. We don't see enough of her to make an impact, which is a shame given that a stronger, more complex woman would have given Charles' decisions more depth and meaning. Melissa George plays Deanna as an exposed nerve, whereas originating the character from a place of inner strength -- working to hold her family together -- would have been a more compelling choice.
Amy is more of a catalyst than a character. While her illness is the driving force behind many of her father's actions, she has little to do aside from looking sad or frustrated. Addison Timlin does the best she can with what little she's given in her feature film debut.
What saves the film and drives the thriller's engine are the character of Phillipe LaRoche and the performance of Vincent Cassel (Ocean's Twelve). Here's a classic villain in the mold of Hans Gruber (Die Hard) and Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs): cold, calculating, and remorseless. Possessing an evil so pure, LaRoche can lull you into a false sense of security with his charm, while at the same time slicing your throat without you ever knowing it. Cassel's performance is layered with so many nuances, it places him head and shoulders above the film's two principal stars.
The most surprising performances of the film come from two musicians turned actors.
Rap star and MTV's Pimp My Ride host, Xzibit, beautifully complements Vincent Cassel as LaRoche's wingman, Dexter. Together they form an impressive one-two punch that makes Charles' life a living hell.
Hip-hop legend and Wu-Tang Clan co-founder, RZA, creates the single most sympathetic character of the film, Charles' co-worker Winston -- a kid from the wrong side of life working hard to make something of himself. Winston is the film's only comic relief, delivered so effectively by one of the cast's least experienced actors. Here's a character so completely fleshed out in such a short period of time, you can't help being connected to him. As a result, Winston is ultimately the one person we care most about.
Director Mikael Hafstrom and cinematographer Peter Biziou (Pink Floyd The Wall) create a dark world with enough twists and turns to make the journey interesting. The pacing, while a bit slow to start, is enhanced by the smooth hand of editor Peter Boyle (The Hours) and the tension-building underscore of composer Edward Shearmur (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). While many of the key plot points are not subtle enough to make this a brilliant thriller, Derailed is an effective rollercoaster ride.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer exhibits the same soft grain as the film's theatrical release, perhaps a choice on the part of Hafstrom and company. Other than that, the colors are muted but solid and there's little evidence of any digital enhancement. The Dolby 5.1 audio track possesses enough ambient effects (trains, weather, crowds) to showcase is robustness, but there's nothing that would be construed as stellar.
In terms of bonus materials, we are offered three deleted scenes (11 min), all of which focus on life in the Shine household. Not surprisingly, none of them would have added much of anything to the tension of storyline. Also included is a behind-the-scenes featurette (8 min), complete with requisite cast and crew interviews and surface level discussion of the film's genesis. The package is rounded out with the original theatrical trailer. While a commentary track could have shed some much-needed light on directorial and acting choices, Hafstrom's broken English probably negated that possibility. Like the film itself, there's enough to make this Unrated release interesting, but not valuable.
Given that much of the film was shot in Chicago, many current and former residents are sure to recognize a few inconsistencies in how the city is presented. For example, the Metra trains, which brings suburban residents into the city, play a key role in the story. Unfortunately, the train Charles rides in from his North Shore home, referred to as the "Red Line," is actually the name of a primary CTA train that runs on the elevated tracks throughout the city. You'll also notice the various cab and car rides traverse an incomprehensible series of streets and neighborhoods. However, as is the case with most location-based films, these creative liberties will go unnoticed by the average moviegoer.
The first theatrical release by the newly minted Weinstein Company generated a meager $36 million at the box office. Those numbers will certainly increase with the DVD release, as audiences discover an enjoyable evening diversion, in a classic "turn your brain off" kind of way. Derailed is certainly worth renting, but I cannot recommend a purchase. It's just not a film you'll care to experience more than once.
Six months probation and a mandatory class on crisis decision-making.
Review content copyright © 2006 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Three Deleted Scenes
* Featurette: The Making of Derailed
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site