Sony // 2010 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 15th, 2010
How far would you go to protect your country?
"You might not want to stick around for this part."
Steven Arthur Younger (Michael Sheen, The Queen) is an American citizen and a member of Islam. Younger served in the US military for many years, specializing in the field of bombs and nuclear weaponry. Now Younger has become a terrorist, and he has made a video claiming that he has placed bombs in three major American cities that are set to go off in a matter of days. He says that he will only provide the location of the bombs if his unspecified demands are met. Younger is quickly captured and imprisoned by the FBI, where he is interrogated endlessly to no effect. As a result, a specialist is called in. His name is "H" (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction), and he's willing to use some rather brutal methods to get information from Younger. FBI Agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix) wholeheartedly objects to this, protesting that H's actions are unconstitutional. Who will win this battle of ethics? Will the bombs be found in time?
Wow. I'm at a loss for words.
Unthinkable is one of the most spectacularly terrible films I've seen in recent times. I'm not talking about the sort of bad that applies to, say, Wild Things: Foursome. I'm talking about the sort of wrong-headed, misguided, morally repugnant, almost entertainingly appalling sort of bad that I haven't seen since, oh, I dunno, The Life of David Gale. There are those who will argue that the film is a complex look at how far we will go in order to protect the lives of countless American citizens. To that, I offer a couple of colorful expletives, along with the assertion that Unthinkable is little more than a ringing endorsement of extreme torture and a preposterous straw man argument.
Once Younger is placed in the violent care of H, the torture gets going pretty quickly. H chops off one of Younger's fingers without asking a single question. This is simply to let Younger know that H means business and is willing to go to extremes. The terrorist is subjected to one awful torment after another, growing in severity as the film progresses. To provide what initially appears to be a faint semblance of a balanced debate, we have Agent Brody helplessly wringing her hands and spewing her do-gooder liberal nonsense like, "this is a violation of the constitution" and, "torture has been proven to be ineffective" and, "we're not acting like human beings" and blah blah blah. Don't worry about that. Once she realizes that a little bit of pain can generate results, our naïve bleeding heart Brody will pick up that knife and start slicing her way to a confession.
Despite the appearance of a two-sided argument, Unthinkable leaves us in absolutely no doubt about its moral position. It is affirmed without any room for debate that torture works, that it is intensely more effective than less violent forms of questioning, and that it is justifiable if there's a chance it will provide results and saves lives.
Spoiler Alert: It's necessary to provide spoilers in order to give you an idea of just how repugnant this film really is.
In fact, Unthinkable not only endorses torture, but also suggests that it's okay to murder innocent human beings close to the terrorist in order to attack them emotionally. No, seriously! There's a scene in which Sheen's wife is brought into the interrogation room. The idea is that she'll see him being tortured and urge him to tell them the truth. Indeed she does, but H has a different game plan. Before you can say, "God bless America," Sam Jackson has sliced her throat. Sure, there's a bit of initial protest, but Jackson is merely given a slap on the wrist before being urged to get back to the bloody task at hand. Do you want to know where the film draws a line? Murdering children. Jackson drag's Younger's wailing, doe-eyed kids into the interrogation room, tapes them to the wall and gets ready to go to town. It's only at this point that the now-bloodthirsty Brody is able to come to her senses and admit that their behavior has crossed a line.
I don't know about you, but I find this ridiculous. I firmly believe that torture is wrong and that engaging in such behavior is not only counterproductive but also contradictory to everything this nation stands for. Logically, one either has to accept the idea that we should not be willing to stoop to immoral methods at all to obtain information or accept the idea that we should be willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary as long as the sacrifice does not outweigh the benefits. I might have had more respect for the film if it had actually stuck to its wrong-headed convictions and agreed to torture/kill the kids for the sake of saving millions of lives. At least then it would have presented a consistent argument. Stopping just short of that and claiming some sort of moral high ground because no children were harmed is delusional.
In terms of basic craftsmanship, the film is merely competent. The set design is pretty simple and the dialogue tends to be awkward and forced at times (there's actually a moment where Jackson says, "What I'm about to do is...unthinkable..."), but the movie has a basic level of polish that prevents it from feeling like a cheap production. The performances are...well, let's just say that the actors do what they can with the material. I generally really like Moss, Jackson, Sheen, and some of the supporting players involved (Martin Donovan, Stephen Root, even Brandon Routh), but nobody comes out of this mess entirely unscathed. I suppose Sheen fares the best, as he spends most of his screen time with a potent look of terror and agony on his face. Alas, Moss' terse performance lacks dimension and Jackson just plays "Samuel L. Jackson" but looks like he's having less fun than usual (maybe he sensed something was off in the script, too).
The hi-def transfer is fine, though for a film with such a big-name cast I have to say that the visuals are pretty drab. The vast majority of the film takes place within a large room inside a high-security government facility, the palette is a drab blend of white light combined with loads of gray. Detail is okay, though there isn't much to really soak in. Blacks are nice and deep and shading is solid. The audio is fine, though the original score by Graeme Revell is overcooked and sometimes gets a bit loud. The dialogue comes through in a clean and clear manner. The only supplements on the disc are an alternate "extended" version of the film (2 minutes longer than the original version with a less ambiguous ending) and an "engaging audio commentary" with director Gregor Jordan (actually just a regular audio commentary). The disc is equipped with MovieIQ and BD-Live.
Before watching Unthinkable, I was surprised that a film starring Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Sheen was going straight-to-DVD. Now that I've seen it, I'm surprised that such talented people were willing to participate in this mess. Highly recommended if you're Dick Cheney or someone who thinks Jack Bauer is a pacifist wimp. Otherwise, I urge you to avoid this terrible film.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Extended Version