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Unthinkable

Sony Pictures // R // June 15, 2010
List Price: $30.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Brian Orndorf | posted June 15, 2010 | E-mail the Author

THE FILM

"Unthinkable" posits troubling questions about the nature of torture, and yet remains about as politically deep as a Steven Seagal film. It's an uncomfortable contrast of thought provoking and throw-the-movie-out-the-window that helps to keep the film on a specific edge of unpredictability, greatly assisted by sturdy performances that manage to settle and struggle with material that director Gregor Jordan is often unable to communicate with any sort of subtlety.

A leader of a F.B.I. counter-terrorism unit, Agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss) has recently learned of the arrest of Younger (Michael Sheen), a U.S. military specialist turned radical Muslim terrorist, who's threatening to detonate three nuclear bombs across the country if his demands are not met. Enter H (Samuel L. Jackson), a black-ops torture maestro assigned to pull the whereabouts of the explosives out of Younger before time is up. Taken to a remote location and strapped to a chair, Younger is subjected to brutal methods of extraction at the hands of H, while Helen is forced to participate, quickly growing disgusted with the whole endeavor. As the clock ticks down, H increases his efforts, leading Helen to panic, begging Younger to spill the crucial information. Younger, emboldened by the pain, refuses, pushing the volatile situation to the breaking point.

"Unthinkable" is an impossible idea for a feature film. To play the premise with any sort of intelligence, Jordan risks losing the viewer by failing to sustain a perfect hum of suspense. Play it stupid, and the feature does a great disservice to the complexity of torture and its myriad of frayed ethical discussions. To satisfy both audiences, the filmmaker shoots right down the middle, trying to balance Peter Woodward's script the best he can before the premise falls completely apart.

Perhaps the primary weakness of "Unthinkable" is the verbose way it goes about business. This is a film of tell and more tell, handing the characters lines for every twitch of emotion, which creates a frustrating ambiance of the obvious, when in fact the reality of nukes and radicals would be far more sobering. Instead of wonderful facial reactions to H's handiwork and Younger's extremism, the picture is filled with cartoon lines of objection and concern, making the feature feel more like a sketchily rehearsed play than a polished feature film. Jordan goes broad with "Unthinkable" to capture the widest possible audience, but the effort backfires, contorting heated issues of national security and moral inventory into a series of clumsy shouting matches between actors who deserve more incisive writing.

It's a challenging battle for the cast, who must embody gray area caricatures representing all sides of the torture argument. To their credit, the actors humanize what they can with fulfilling displays of anguish as the danger escalates. Perhaps "Unthinkable" doesn't provide the most challenging of roles (Jackson seems expectedly comfortable as a man of great ego and violence), but it's a solid ensemble, helping Jordan find a few pockets of animation as Younger's resilience is put to the ultimate test. When the film implodes, the cast keeps the picture limping along.

THE BLU-RAY

Visual:

The AVC encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) doesn't exactly have a great visual challenge to overcome, as most of "Unthinkable" takes place in a single interrogation room. Nevertheless, the image quality here is above average, with a decent amount of detail that brings facial reactions to life, as well as providing some depth to the film's limited locations. Colors are strong and comfortably maintained, with cool blues the primary element that forms the look of the film. Shadow detail isn't as triumphant as hoped for, with information lost in darker hair colors and costumes, bringing out a few overly contrasted shots.

Audio:

The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is forceful and frontal, with a nice shove of score and sound effects that wallop the listener with an interesting effort. Suspense is sustained well here, with the mix weaving between dialogue passages and more sonic movements of music and atmospherics, providing some directional activity and low-end rumble when the violence heats up. It's not a dynamic mix that swirls around the listener, but feels more blunt, reflecting the angry tone of the movie. Despite yelps and scoring intensity, everything is clean and understood.

Subtitles:

English and English SDH subtitles are included.

Extras:

The feature-length audio commentary with director Gregor Jordan is a nicely prepared chat with the filmmaker, who has much to discuss with this film. It seems research was a top priority for Jordan, who talks up his struggles to find some reality within the screenplay, while also tending to its dramatic needs. Technical talk of camerawork and maneuvering actors is also of interest, though the best stuff is saved for the finale, as Jordan recalls the troubles that ensued when the film tested poorly due to the lack of a satisfying ending.

A Theatrical Trailer is included.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The final act of "Unthinkable" is where it all crumbles. Of course, there's no actual way to conclude the film on a satisfying note, but the BD offers two endings (literal and cliffhanger), and they both stink. Chasing a vibration of hysteria, Jordan can't contain the chaos, losing control of the film at the very moment it needs complete concentration. Instead of something provocative and horrifying, "Unthinkable" becomes an ethical cartoon, failing to follow through with any of its ideas, leaving the final summation up to the viewer, who's probably checked out long before the bombs tick down to zero.


For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com
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