A Review by Jason
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Carrie Anne Moss, Brandon Routh
Directed by: Gregor Jordan
Movie Released: 2010
As season 8 of 24 wound down on Fox, the high octane show shot in real time had 8 seasons of silly twists and turns, nuclear bombs, crazed terror plots, government cover ups and rogue agents. The one constant of course was none other than Kiefer Sutherland’s character, Jack Bauer. 24 thrived on tapping into the theory: “To stop a weapon that has no cure…you need a man who knows no limits.” Jack Bauer was always that man. Forget cutting through the red tape of the American justice system, when a hacksaw, a faulty lamp cord and a spray bottle of water can get the job done- or at least that’s how Bauer would look at it. Always pushing the envelope and questioning enhanced interrogation techniques, at least in 24 land, America needed the Jack Bauers of the world, whether we wanted to admit to it or not.
As I was sharing my sadness that 24 had wound down (although I will admit it was a bitter sweet event), one of my co-workers suggested that I check out a film called Unthinkable to help fill in the void. Described to me as Samuel L. Jackson playing Jack Bauer, (and a trailer that hints at it as well) I was a bit intrigued and picked up a copy. The film starts off with a man claiming that he has set 3 nuclear weapons to go off in 3 major cities in three days as a way to declare jihad on America. With the FBI and the military scrambling to find the bombs, they turn to the one man that is not afraid to do the unthinkable to get answers, a black ops interrogator played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Known as ‘H’ by the military, real name Henry Harold Humphries or (Hunter Hearst Helmsley as The Mike and I began to call him), ‘H’ mysterious past gives him hints of Jack Bauer as my co-worker describes but the twisted nature of Jigsaw from the Saw franchise as well. When agents are offering the alleged terrorist a cup of tea and pleading with him to give up the location of the bombs, H steps in with a different approach that involves a hatchet. When hatcheting off fingers doesn’t suffice, he’s not afraid to up the ante, dabbling in electroshock therapy, water boarding, and some dental work courtesy of a Dremel tool. The point is, unlike Jack Bauer, H seems to take some sick pleasure in what he does. His job is to break someone, to produce answers in controlled environment- all with a calm smile and a lab coat.
The flick keeps us pretty well locked inside an old high school gymnasium that the government has set up as a hidden bunker for interrogations, and doesn’t stray far from it for an action sequences aside from a few key moments. The film is low on gun play, chasing down terrorists and bad guys and instead focuses on the race against the clock that H faces. Opposite of Jackson we have Carrie Anne Moss (The Matrix) playing a FBI field agent who is less than impressed with H’s interrogation tactics. This of course spawns the 2 hour back and forth moral dilemma about the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques, and of course is it OK to torture one man who intends on harming millions if you can prevent the loss of innocent lives? This obvious side story plays out like a broken record. As a viewer there are many a things that H is willing to do that you know crosses lines, but Moss’s character quickly becomes irritating enough that you don’t really want to side with her either, no matter how much of a human rights activist you are.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Unthinkable is the psychological aspect of the film that is drummed up through out it’s run time. As the clock ticks away toward a nuclear apocalypse, the film almost becomes a race to see who will break first, H or the terrorist. Despite his best efforts, H is getting no where, and knows that the path he must continue down will make him do things that are unthinkable, and perhaps even despicable acts. At the same time, the alleged terrorist who has held out despite it all is too playing a mind game, and betting that H can’t rev things up another level. This twisted mind game is rather interesting to watch unfold.
Perhaps where Unthinkable really lost its steam was in its conclusion. H makes his final stand and announces that he will do something that no man should ever do or be witness to and does it with a speech that only Samuel L. Jackson can deliver. No matter what your thoughts are on his actions, the film just putters out slowly and ends on a bit of a cliff hanger note, leaving you as a viewer slightly unsatisfied. You leave not sure the good guys have won, but the bad guys don’t exactly win either. Then again, perhaps that’s the point of Unthinkable- no one wins in this type of situation.
When it comes down to it, I’d prefer to believe that if a Jack Bauer exists in the world, he’s roaming the streets, tracking down leads (that most likely wind up dead) and protecting the innocent with a gun and a badge, only resorting to electroshock therapy via lamp cord on the fly when all other avenues have been attempted. Unthinkable mixed in a bit too much Jigswaw, Hostile or other torture crazed psycho in with my Bauer and that’s a mixed drink that just doesn’t set quite right. As far as Unthinkable as a film goes, I found enjoyment in it. It’s a slow build, slow burn film that builds to what could be a very climactic conclusion. It’s just too bad the most “unthinkable” thing about this movie was it’s conclusion.