A Flawed Failure
There is a perennial debate about whether a civilised society may sacrifice its civilised ideals in order to deal with an uncivilised threat. It has exercised great minds over the years. Sadly none were involved in the making of this film. Instead the raw ingredients are chucked into the pot and the demands of what make a commercial film triumph over all, but are not cooked properly.
The plot centres around an American Muslim who has allegedly planted a number of nuclear devices in an act of Jihad. The authorities task, with him captured, is to find out where the devices are, and to neutralise them in time by getting the terrorist, Stephen Younger played by Michael Sheen , to talk. The key question, set by the film title, is “what is unthinkable?.” That the terrorist is a white American Muslim convert side-steps some of the inevitable racist stereotyping pitfalls that a middle eastern national would have caused. And the interrogator? A black man, Samuel Jackson, playing the bad guy “H”, a mysterious governmental fixer of indeterminate organisational background. Carrie Ann Moss plays the part of chief FBI agent who is the “Good cop” in the set up. If it all sounds a bit contrived that is because it is.
A significant amount of the 97 minute running time is devoted to torture scenes, which are clearly the selling point of the film. But an audience keen on a spot of torture porn are unlikely to be too hooked on the moral nuances of the problem , which seriously undermines the validity of the story. The scenes are brutal and graphic right from the start, which again gives the story little place to go. Curiously, when the “Unthinkable” is enacted at the end, the torture of the terrorists children, Director Gregor Jordan backtracks like mad for fear of offending his audience. Water-boarding, genital mutilation, amputation, and drilling are all fine – just don’t hurt the kids………………………
Despite the tight running time, the story actually drags a bit. There is only so much torture you can stomach and the sense of drama with millions of citizens at risk in various cities is curiously absent. The sub-plots are awkward and clunky. It turns out Bad Guy “H” has a Bosnian wife who was raped and tortured – so what? It feels a clumsy way of giving him some humanity. Jackson plays the part with such sadistic savagery, and the fate of the innocents is so underplayed, that the argument that all this is justifiable figures weakly in the mind of the viewer. The external location scene when Younger dupes his captors into a planned spectacular feels like a device for the film, not a convincing part of the story and is shamelessly rushed. “We’ve had the explosion- time for some more torture”.
The end is unsatisfactory because there is nowhere for the story to go. So this is no thoughtful exploration of a worthwhile and contemporary subject, it is just a crude excuse for those who get off on seeing other people hurt. The irony of this is almost surely lost on the film-makers.