When considering all the embarrassing and damnable schlock that ends up on $10-per-head theater screens each and every last one of a given year’s 52 weeks (to the point parents end up having to take out payday loans on the web to keep their kids in Pixar flicks) I find it tragic when a film of merit ends up banished straight to DVD. The term itself is a condemnation. In the minds of, well, everyone, “Straight to DVD” is actually longhand for “crap”. I was reminded recently that this is not always the case.
It may instead be politics or lack of a studio’s faith in a film’s potential profitability that sees a quality flick cast into the sin bin. It’s big business, after all. I think in the case of 2010’s Unthinkable it was a combination of both. After weighing the options surrounding public political opinion, a million dollar marketing budget and the difficult subject matter – I can’t say the powers that be made a bad business decision. So many will miss this smart, extremely well-written (save for some obligatory explication-type military dialogue), well-acted, gory and thrilling… thriller. Perhaps I can remedy that for a few of you. And if you’re not yet convinced – Superman’s in it too!
We need a synopsis here, but I’ll keep it quick and spoiler-free. Watch the trailer above for more of the the major bulletpoints. An Iowa-born American, ex-military, sends out a video claiming he’s placed nuclear bombs in three major cities set to go off in three days. All the agencies spring into action and converge on a high school gym where Younger a.k.a. “Yousef” is being held and interrogated. Samuel L. Jackson, Carrie Ann Moss and Michael Sheen earn their paychecks. A mysterious professional fingernail-puller, played convincingly by Mr. Jackson, is added to the mix and everyone begins to butt heads. Here’s an example of an exchange which I’m blatantly inventing – but it’s still pretty accurate:
“Don’t torture him! It’s bad. Take the bag off his head, Mr. Abu Ghraib. We’re human beings and Americans. We’re above this barbaric, medieval practice. What’s next – black plague and a jousting tournament?”
“Actually, there’s going to be about 10 million less Americans able to stand around, patting themselves on the back like you’re doing right now if we don’t get this traitorous, bearded whackadoo to tell us where the 3 bombs are in the next 72 hours. So there’s that, Garafalo.”
And… scene. That dynamic is the crux of what I love about this movie. The peacenik FBI agent is horrified that any kind of interrogation is happening, let alone the creative style that Jackson’s “H” brings to the gymnasium. But we also see H as a family man, loving father and generally likeable guy who honestly believes he is doing his duty for God and country. So who is right and who is wrong? To what ends is it reasonable to travel to save lives before we lower ourselves to the level of a terrorist. And is it appropriate for one gym full of people to get to decide for 10 million oblivious citizens who are also one step away from becoming radioactive dust?
I mentioned the quality of the writing before and Peter Woodward (son of Edward “The Equalizer”) has crafted a story which bucks the political drivel we’re used to being spoonfed by Hollywood and will cause you to have to think hard about how much is too much. Alternately, if you enjoy being spoonfed might I suggest Matt Damon in Green Zone which deserves to have a sin bin all to itself – which is then steam rolled like a pile of post-Pope picture tearing Sinead O’Connor DVDs. And then doused in kerosene. And then set ablaze. With Matt Damon strapped down, also inside of the bin. So yeah, really fucking hated Green Zone.
I implore you to seek the Unthinkable out and watch it. Watch it all the way through until the last second before the credits roll. You may find your usual moral high ground highly unstable in those final moments. It’s a smart, engaging and challenging film which deserves a wider audience. And thus ends my popcorn Jihad.