By Malcolm Woodard | Shadow and Act April 3, 2013 at 1:31PM
What a silly exercise Unthinkable is. It's just not very good! In fact, for a film centered on material of such gravity, it's more comical than it likely intended to be. I laughed. A lot. From Samuel L. Jackson's usual obnoxious screaming-man routine, to the film's preposterous setups, horrible, hackneyed dialogue, and ringing endorsement for torture, I'm not certain what exactly drew the film's impressive cast to the material. It's just absurd.
Those who support the film will likely argue that it's a complex look at the torture debate, and what this country is willing to do to protect its citizens, but there's little up for discussion here. The film's moral stance isn't at all ambiguous, despite attempts at a 2-sided argument.
No, I'm not naive to the ways of war, specifically when it comes to the use of torture as a means to extract crucial pieces of information from a target, but the filmmakers behind Unthinkable seem to be, given how trivially the matter is handled here. It was hard to take any of it seriously.
Something is missing here; something significant, needed to give the film the weight it seems so desperate to want to create, in order to evoke the kind of emotion in its audience it desires. Gratuitous scenes of violence may shock the audience, or wake them up out of whatever stupor they find themselves in as they watch the film; however, they don't automatically translate as profound, without any real emotional connection to either the person on the receiving end of said violence, or the person inflicting the violence, or just the story in general. Sure, there are reasons given on both sides, but, maybe it's the matter in which they are delivered, and the direction of those sequences that suck all the life out of each moment, and many other moments in the film.
We're led to believe that there are nuclear bombs, placed in various cities across the US of A, as the country is held hostage by the one man who knows where the bombs are, because he claims to have put them there, via a videotape confession. He's essentially the American Taliban, here to do their bidding in the name of Allah. And not-so oddly enough, that particular plot-line feels dated, even though it seems to think of itself as topical. And the ethical quandary - wrestled over between Samuel L. Jackson's overzealous, callous black-ops interrogator, who administers much of the torture, and Carrie Anne Moss' sensitive FBI agent with a heart of gold - would have maybe been more resonant if this were a farce, and both played their respective good cop/bad cop roles with more earnestness. Then this unintentional comedy of errors really would earn its unintentional laughs.
The rest of the characters are rather thinly written, 2-dimensional cut-outs from other films you've likely seen; even the usually reliable Michael Sheen as the American-turned-Muslim terrorist. His baby-faced intensity, and Banana Republic attire didn't help matters much.
It's nearly impossible to thoroughly review the film without giving some of its "secrets" away; but, broadly, I'd assume the filmmakers want the audience to question the use of torture as a tool in times of war. And, given how the story evolves, they appear to be saying that torture (even the worst kind, if I can say that) is necessary, especially in extreme cases. Sure, it gives us the empathetic female character to counter all the testosterone nearly suffocating the entire drab "war room" that much of the film takes place in; but, there's more than enough onscreen support for the opposition to subjugate any resistance to it. Her presence felt more like an afterthought. And in the end, the bad guy (at least, as the filmmakers see him) gets his comeuppance!
I'm left wondering if Dick Cheney was one of the film's producers.
It clocks in at 96 minutes, and I was thankful for that! Ultimately, I just didn't care for any of the characters, where I was being led by the plot - none of it. By the time it was over, I wished all the bombs indeed exploded! The mostly stellar cast saves it from the pits; they do what they can with the material. Unfortunately, there just isn't very much of it that resonates.