One of the big hot button issues in American policy is the use of torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It was a campaign issue from both Presidential candidates and has inspired much debate. The television show 24 featured the use of torture by its protagonist, amongst others, and a good torture scene or two has come up in many films over the years. The ethical dilemma of it remains the same: is it ok to torture someone if it means saving the lives of others? Now comes a film devoted to an exploration of that question in Unthinkable, sent directly to video after what seemed like a potential theatrical release.
Younger (Michael Sheen) is an American convert to Islam who has planted three nuclear weapons across the country. Caught by the police, he’s left in the hands of H (Samuel L Jackson) and FBI Agent Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss). H is an interrogator who works for the CIA as a contractor, doing the dirty work they can’t officially do. As H tortures Younger, the film becomes a race against a time to find the three weapons.
In an era where a film like Hostel, and the Saw franchise, can exploit torture in the name of sheer entertainment, this is torture that’ll churn the stomach of even the most ardent horror film aficionado. As H proceeds to extract the information, the film becomes incredibly tough to watch because of how intense the torture scenes get. And that’s mainly from the interplay of the two actors involved.
Samuel L Jackson is an actor known for his loud, demonstrative style of acting at his best and H is an opposite from his usual roles because he’s calm and collected. H is a man who does this for a living and doesn’t get emotionally involved. When he loses his temper, especially towards the end, it means more because we’re used to seeing him in the first half of the film completely calm and collected. It’s an acting clinic for Jackson as he plays against type; H is a cool, collected guy who does bad things to people and is perfectly fine with it. There’s no element of regret or remorse about what he does and it’s fascinating to see Jackson at work. This is his meatiest role in eons and he seems to be relishing it. By the end, when he gets a bit of a soliloquy, there’s a truth to what he says that echoes deep inside.
Sheen, on the other hand, is given a rather thankless job as the terrorist being tortured. Considering his character range in the last couple years, from Lucian the Werewolf in the Underworld series to David Frost in both the film and stage versions of Frost/Nixon and Tony Blair in a handful of films, he certainly has a diverse range of characters. Younger represents a bit of a contrast to his usual roles as this is a dirty, dirty man willing to do evil things because of his fanatical devotion to his religion. Younger is a true believer and an intelligent man, as well.
The interactions between the two make for compelling cinema, if cinema that is hard to watch. And as the film goes on the torture does as well as Gregor Jordan walks a fine line between torture and making it a torture porn film. It’s a fine line he straddles well as Unthinkable ends up a strong film based on pure chemistry alone. It looks at hard decisions, especially in a time of crisis, and ends up being the start of a great argument.
Presented in a Dolby Digital sound with a widescreen presentation, this is a great transfer of a dark and gritty film.
There’s a Commentary from the director.
There’s an Alternate Ending to the film, accessible in the “Extended version” of the film.
Previews for other Sony titles are included.
With not much to add to the DVD besides the film itself, and an “Extended version” that adds minimal to the film, this is a good film but not something quite good enough for purely a blind buy. Mild recommendation.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Unthinkable. Directed by Gregor Jordan. Starring Samuel L Jackson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Michael Sheen, Brandon Routh. Running time 97 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: June 15, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.