Unthinkable (2010)

I always have to laugh when a film’s title is used so overtly in the film that it’s impossible not to notice it. In the case of Unthinkable, it gets said only once and at that point, we’re very late into the production. When it is said, we’re not supposed to laugh. It’s a very critical moment, as you might expect in a thriller and the word “unthinkable,” but the delivery and how obvious that we’re supposed to notice its usage made me giggle. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Our film opens with a recorded message from one of the main characters, who tells us that his name is now “Yusuf,” even though it was formerly “Steven.” This character, played by Michael Sheen, informs us that he has placed three nuclear bombs in three separate American cities, and unless his demands are met, they will blow up on the upcoming Friday. We begin on Tuesday, I believe, when we meet our main character, an FBI Agent named Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss). She’s head of the terrorist squad, and gets called in after the bomb threat is revealed.

She’s joined by a man named “H” (Samuel L. Jackson), a person who, earlier on, was suspected of terrorism himself. It turns out, he’s in some sort of witness protection program, and is also one of the best interrogators out there. Why do we need an interrogator? Well, because Yusuf has already been captured, something that the military (who is now running the show), didn’t tell the FBI. There’s a lot of tension between the two groups, we learn, and the military ends up being a hassle more than once over the course of this movie.

Eventually, our two characters are able to begin their interrogation of Yusuf. It’s here when Unthinkable gets weird. Taking a new spin on the “good cop/bad cop” routine (whether intentional by the characters or not), H becomes the bad one, while the Brody tells Yusuf that everything will be all right after he tells them the locations of the bombs. Following that, H chops off one of Yusuf’s fingers. He’s taking this bad cop thing a little too seriously, if you ask Brody.

It turns out, he’s not playing; this is just what he does when he’s interrogating someone. Brody cries “illegal,” but nobody cares. They have only a few days to get the information that could save millions of lives, and right now, H’s methods seem to be the only ones that might crack Yusuf. Unconstitutional is right, but when the death toll could reach 10 million, it seems that it doesn’t matter what the Constitution says.

That’s one of the points that Unthinkable wants you to sit on while it plays. It also wants you to think about a lot involving the government as well as the ethics involved with terrorism and interrogation. How far is too far to get what you want? If there’s one thing that this movie isn’t, it’s shy. This is a film that knows what it wants to tell you, and it’s going to do everything in its power to make sure that you don’t ignore its point of view. In some ways, that’s refreshing, but in others, it gets in the way of the narrative.

Speaking of the story, while it’s straightforward and doesn’t have a lot of twists, it’s also very repetitive. Save for one or two revelations, the torture-break-discuss-torture formula is what we go with for the vast majority of the time we spend with Unthinkable. I know movies like the Saw franchise are considered torture porn, but I think this also fits the bill considering it feels like half the film’s runtime is spent watching Samuel L. Jackson torture Michael Sheen with various methods and instruments.

However, for a film that clocks in just barely over 90 minutes, this repetition is, frankly, unacceptable. It gets tiresome and tedious to go through the same cycle over and over, while also getting predictable. You feel like you could fast forward through large sections, or maybe take a nap, and you wouldn’t miss anything. In large part, that’s true. The times when Yusuf actually talks or comes close to talking end up only being brief reprieves from the seemingly endless torture.

With that said, the actors are all either effective or at least intense enough to get away with their flaws. Despite ostensibly being our main character, Carrie-Anne Moss gets relegated to a background role after the halfway point, making this a two-person show. And what a show it is! Jackson shows the intensity that you’d expect from him given the fact that his role is of a possibly insane man, while Sheen, despite having to act like he’s in pain most of the time, gives the most emotionally invested performance whenever he’s given the chance. Moss, despite being a one-note character, is the most “sane” of the characters, providing the film with a moral (and more importantly, stable) center.

I’m not sure if Unthinkable is worth watching, primarily because it’s ultimately a preachy effort with a repetitive narrative. But if you’re okay with a film making sure it gets its point across, and you want to see a couple of very intense performances from Sheen and Jackson, this just might be the film for you. Just don’t be adverse to torture porn, as there’s a whole lot of questionable tactics used during interrogations in this movie.

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