MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Thriller/ Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Sheen, Carrie-Anne Moss, Brandon Routh, Benito Martinez, Gil Bellows, Joshua Harto, Martin Donovan, Stephen Root, Necar Zadegan, Michael Rose, Holmes Osborne/Runtime: 97 minutes
I would just like to start this review off by saying that the movie I am taking a look at today is an intriguing example of what happens when art chooses to be a reflection of the real world with an aim in mind to give us a more accessible glimpse into a topic that many a person has mulled over and endlessly debated the merits of. That topic incidentally is the usage and execution of torture against terrorists and other such enemy agents and I think it is safe to say that for a slice of cinematic pie that is titled Unthinkable that there is an irony to be found there. That of course being that this film will actually inspire you to think really long and really hard after it’s over especially when it comes to what really is the worth of one life when faced with the possibility of losing thousands if not more as well as how valid punishing someone on an extreme physical and psychological level is in getting vital information which could save lives. Yet as worried as I was that this slice of cinematic pie wasn’t going to play fair to both respective camps on this particular debate, I can honestly say I was wrong to be concerned. That’s because the movie does respect both sides of the argument to the extent that the film never does hint one way or another on if what happens in this film is moral let alone legal. Rather, this is a slice of cinematic pie is one that revels in ambiguity whilst also giving us a final act that has quite a few curves in the road that will you leave shocked and gut punched, but also able to comprehend why some people might go to extreme lengths in their attempts to thwart a pending calamity.
The plot is as follows: Unthinkable introduces us to an American by the name of Steven Arthur Younger. Younger, we quickly are able to learn, is a convert to Islam who has chosen to place 3 devastatingly powerful nuclear weapons within a trinity of huge cities in the United States of America. Having done this, Younger then puts on the Internet a video that whilst giving barely any intel as to where he has placed these explosive devices does at least tell the authorities who he is and what he looks like. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that Mr. Younger is quickly and swiftly arrested even if he does seem like he was ready for that. Thus, we soon see that with days before his explosive devices are meant to go off, a mystery man known simply as H is called in by the proper authorities and given permission to obtain whatever intel he can by any measure he deems necessary. Alongside our mystery man is an FBI operative by the name of Helen Brody who although she most assuredly comprehends the franticness of the circumstances, but who is equally determined to oppose H and his particularly brutal methods for getting the information they need from Younger. Thus as the timer begins getting closer and closer to its explosive conclusion, we see as our driven and determined protagonist is forced to utilize some pretty brutal torture tactics if he is to find out where the explosive devices are even if in order to do so he might just have to engage in a desperate measure that is no more and no less than absolutely unthinkable in every sense of the word…
Now with a film like this, there is only one thing you are most likely wondering: how successful is it in shining a light on the debate of torture to say nothing of its worth as a tool on the present day battlefield that with how crazy the world is could literally be anywhere at any time? To make a long story short: “quite a bit”. Indeed I say this because this film is, in certain respects, a modern day war movie albeit one that is able to discern that combat is not just between men in uniforms with guns anymore. Instead, it is one that can often come down to being a mind game between 2 people: one who knows something bad is about to happen and one with an iron will who is determined to get what this person knows out of them in any way they can due to the fact that quite a few lives are hanging in the balance both in the initial catastrophe, but also in the ensuing vengeful strike that would most assuredly follow. To that end, this slice of cinematic pie can be quite difficult to sit through due to the fact that it deals with this topic with an integrity that might make you a tad bit uneasy whilst also inspiring you to have a genuine discussion with those you watch it with on if the positives of the utilization of torture outweigh the negatives.
Now as touched on a little bit in the previous paragraph, the key area where this movie is the strongest is in how does a respectful job of showing both sides of the argument as it shows both how horrific these actions can be on a person physically and psychologically while at the same time telling us about how these actions, although depraved, might be the best way to save thousands of other lives. Indeed this is a film that forces you to figure out for yourself a few questions. Not only where you as an individual draw the line between brutalizing one life in the hope that doing so might save scores of other lives, but also if your line shifts when the one life is that of a self-confessed terrorist whose only aim is to bring pain and chaos to the lives of thousands? Yet even with these in mind, the key thing that this film does admirably it actually makes its characters human beings right down to the trinity of main characters in the form of the diabolical extremist, his determined to break him interrogator, and the overwhelmed FBI agent assigned to the case respectively. Yes these characters by and large could have been simple archetypes, but the movies does a great job at giving us characters who are both three-dimensional as well as of perspectives towards the overall debate the movie presents us with.
Of course, it should also be said that another positive this movie has going for it is that it doesn’t skimp you in how it presents us with moments of torture. Indeed these moments are by no means amusing and they most especially aren’t the simplest things to watch in the world. Yet it is that pit in your stomach to say nothing of what you see unfold before you let alone the fact that if this wasn’t being done many American lives wouldn’t live to see another day that go a long way to molding this slice of cinematic pie into not exactly an analysis of torture, but rather a glimpse at the two sides of this proverbial coin and the balancing act one between these visceral acts and the possibility of significant loss of lives should nothing be done to get information done to keep this calamity form occurring. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie is one that doesn’t shield you from even the most potent and stomach curdling violence in this even though the violence doesn’t have a big part in persuading you to see things from one perspective or the other. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinematic pie is one that brilliantly keeps your audience riveted on both a psychological and pathos level. A pair of ingredients that are incidentally the perspectives the ones through which the torture is set up yet at the same time also helping to make sure the movie is not void of purpose or lacking of focus on what it is trying to convey. At the end of the day though, the genuine moral that this film is trying to convey seems to be that in modern combat there is no limits to how far either side will go. Rather, there are only people who have their own philosophies, their own objectives, and their own sense of morality or lack thereof. In that respect, I can honestly say that this slice of cinematic pie is thankfully backed up by a trinity of fantastic performances that all contribute immensely to how riveting and draining the rest of the film is. I mean I love Samuel L. Jackson, but he is absolutely terrifying in a good way in the role of H. Indeed Jackson does a great job at giving us a character who is driven to do whatever he can to get the information he needs even while he finds himself engaged in mental combat with both his terrorist prey as well as those he is working with who don’t exactly approve of how he gets his results. We also get a pair of terrific performances from Michael Sheen who is chilling in the best way as the stoic terrorist and Carrie-Anne Moss who is brilliant and believable as H’s reluctant FBI partner who quickly develops quite the distaste for H’s way of doing things. Suffice it to say then that this film from an acting perspective is potent in the best way possible.
All in all it is quite safe to say that the 2010 slice of cinematic pie that is Unthinkable truly is at the end of the day a quite horrific movie in several ways. Indeed here is a film that is a terrifyingly visceral excursion of just how far a person can go when under severe physical agony, but it is also a movie that chooses to immerse itself in exploring the darkness of terrorism and one possible way that can be utilized to fight it. Indeed here is an intense slice of cinematic pie that although difficult to stomach at points is one that is still quite riveting to say nothing of being a film that will have you, the viewer engaged in debate when it comes to the limit that they or those responsible within the government should go when it comes to keeping people or a way of living safe or just upholding an ideal no matter how twisted or extreme that ideal may be. Thus will this movie be the one to make people rethink how they view torture? Honestly I wouldn’t bet on it though I could be wrong. At the same time though, that’s not what this movie was really setting out to accomplish. Rather, this slice of cinematic pie was setting out to give us an emotionally jarring and riveting cinematic outing that wants us to see that at the end of the day there are no true victories or defeats in this horrific game that can place no less a price than a man’s life and even his soul and beliefs on the line. An outing that I can honestly say this movie is successful in trying to be and then some. On a scale of 1-5 I give Unthinkable “2010” a solid 3.5 out of 5.