In Derailed, Clive Owen plays TV commercial executive Charlie Schine, a well-to-do man who's losing his accounts, dealing with a stagnant marriage, and consistently caring for his diabetes-laden daughter. With bags under his eyes, clearly wearing his burdens, he rides the train in to work every day just so he can funnel more money into his cache of savings for his daughter's medical condition. One day, he forgets to bring extra cash, and a married financial executive named Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston) offers to pay for his train ticket in a pinch. A bond forms; they begin flirting with the idea of having an affair over daily conversations on the train, culminating at a seedy motel crammed in one of Chicago's dark corners. It's the kind of place where you'd think thrice about staying there if your car had broken down nearby, so it's no big surprise that the pair encounter a violent pistol-wielding robber LaRoche (Vincent Cassel). What does come as a surprise is when the gruff, French-accented thug calls Charlie after-the-fact, to blackmail him over the affair.
Mikael Håfström (1408), whose fraught Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee Evil still impresses, doesn't really know what to do with stock, single-purpose fare like Derailed. His aggressive style of filmmaking makes the taboo interactions on the train between Charlie and Lucinda fruitless on a dramatic level, barely teasing at sizzles of sultriness as they grow closer to acting on their flirtations. Though Clive Owen plays the role of Charlie with charismatic gusto, though with a generic gruffness that waters down his Oscar-nominated attitude from Closer, his approach towards Charlie's emotional breaking point feels inert and passionless -- aside from one tear-heavy burst. Jennifer Aniston, on the other side of the coin, continues down the mold-breaking path that she started with The Good Girl, yet Lucinda's tempt-heavy edge doesn't fit in her comfort zone well. It builds into a flimsy, glum foundation that really doesn't evoke much care for its characters -- other than sympathy for Charlie's family.
It's arguable whether the drab gloominess matters, though, when Derailed reaches its contraption of a "twist", one that funnels everything into a downward spiral of dark, uneasy plotting. Collateral writer Stuart Beattie, adapting from a James Siegel novel, properly structures the film by establishing willing, flawed characters -- he's downtrodden and searching for some life-affirming happiness, she's practically a single mom because of her traveling, neglectful husband -- then shifts gears into the mechanics of the winding mystery. Yet therein lays the big problem with this thriller: LaRoche's strong-armed intimidation and the heavy scheming that follows, along with its big reveal, comes across as too overworked and easily-connected for its own good, a mechanical product of the Hollywood machine that hops over gaps in logic just to reach a big reveal. And there are certainly gaps in logic, on both structural and expressive levels, which weigh down the already-leaden mystery.
Derailed becomes a complacent chore of a thriller as a result, mashing the suspense button at all the right moments but missing all the beats -- and the intelligence -- needed to spice up the unsurprising twists and turns. Obviously some details are being avoided in this discussion, though it'd be pretty difficult to not pick up on what's going down once the derivative gears begin cranking. Håfström would probably like for his audience to perceive this as some form of Hitchcockian ode within its exploration of licentious people, possibly even projecting it as a cautionary tale to those considering going down a path to promiscuity. However, it simply doesn't work at being either of those things, ultimately struggling to stay afloat for 100-minutes in a pool of senselessness that tries to make some rather simple decisions -- like, I don't know, going to the police -- seem like the wrong ones to make. They only accomplish making Charlie look like an idiot, something he's clearly not supposed to be.
Video and Audio:
Derailed saw a release on HD-DVD which wasn't all that impressive, and it appears as if Vivendi/The Weinstein Company have plopped the same 1080p AVC transfer onto a new, shiny Blu-ray disc. Framed at 2.35:1, there's very little positive to say about what's going on here; the contrast leans extremely gray, the level of detail doesn't satisfy, while the lack of dimension really doesn't do the film's cinematography any favors. Harsh grain pops up on more than one occasion, while blips and dots can be spotted throughout the picture. A few close-ups look decent, showcasing some passable detail and skintone accuracy, but this really doesn't look like a film that was shot just five years ago.
The DTS HD Master Audio fares better than the visual transfer, though obviously that's not too difficult to do. The rattling of train sound effects clickity-clank and thrust across the soundstage, while the moody music lugs the film's unsuccessful suspense rhythm along with suitable clarity. Some voices get muffled and cloudy in a few spots, but the dialogue mostly remains audible. A few bold yells from Cassel stress-test the sound design, and it retails its composure well enough. The sound's not too shabby, bringing up the rear when the high-definition rendering doesn't. Spanish and English SDH subs are available.
The same ole' stuff carries over from the HD-DVD, which includes a brief Making of Derailed (8:15, 1080i AVC) piece with several generic interviews with Håfström, Owen, Aniston, and Cassel, as well as a series of Deleted Scenes (10:39, 1080i AVC) which, oddly, give the film a more vibrant palette than the actual HD transfer. Finally, a 1.85:1-framed Theatrical Trailer (2:24, 1080i AVC) fills out the bottom end of the supplements, which again makes the palette look much more modern and vibrant -- a hint at what could've been with the HD visualization.
Sandwiched in between Evil and 1408, two wildly-different films I actually really like, Mikael Håfström's Derailed really doesn't offer much more than a predictable, uninteresting thriller with two likable-but-static leads dragging it along. Some might get a charge out of seeing how everything sputters out of control and interconnects at the end, but the blandly stern tone and the not-so-involving way the story's told -- along with the film's "ace in the hole" twist -- doesn't make the experience leading up to the shoulder-shrugging chaos all that much fun to watch. If interested, rent the film with the knowledge that it's going to lose its low amount of effectiveness with one screening, but the subpar, low-feature Blu-ray is one that can be Skipped. Watch something like Before the Devil Knows You're Dead or, heck, even Strangers on a Train instead.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site