On DVD: 
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Running Time: 
97 minutes

Ostensibly a suspenseful and balanced thinking piece on the role of torture in the War on Terror, direct-to-DVD Unthinkable plays out as a claustrophobic and endlessly talking piece of torture porn.   Unwatchable would have been a much better title.  Steven Younger is an American citizen and former military nuclear specialist turned radical Islamist who makes a video claiming to have placed three nuclear bombs in urban centers and says they will explode within days unless some unspecified demands are met.  He is arrested soon after, apparently by choice, and is interrogated by the FBI and military to no effect.  Enter H (Samuel L. Jackson), an “independent contractor” under CIA protection who specializes in torture and makes Jack Bauer look like the cuddliest teddy bear ever.  H immediately hacks off one of Younger’s fingers, much to the distress of Special Agent Brody (Carrie-Ann Moss), the FBI anti-terrorism expert in charge of finding the bombs.  Unfortunately Brody’s distress is all op-ed platitude (“But we have a Constitution and the Geneva Convention) with no substance.  As soon as one (non-nuclear) bomb explodes, Brody slices open Younger’s chest herself and she won’t tell H to stop the torture when he all but asks her to.  All this is the gentle stuff.  When time runs short and there are no leads on the bombs, H “takes it up a few notches” and we learn what’s “unthinkable” and what’s not.  Let’s just say the film’s line is thousands of miles away from mine.

The script is simplistic at best.  While Unthinkable purports to be middle of the road with political arguments from the left and right shouted ad nauseum and hand-wringing accompanying almost every brutality, the message is clear that torture not only works but it works better and faster than any other less illegal, immoral, or inhuman methods.  The extended version of the film with an alternate ending hammers the point home even farther.  For some that is absolutely an acceptable view, but not for me, and to sneakily show it under the guise of presenting both viewpoints is just wrong.

Even if I could stomach torture as a viable interrogation “technique,” Unthinkable is boring and occasionally silly.  It is all talk—so much talk—with little actual action outside of chopping off body parts, etc. The shunting to the side of the actual bomb investigation destroys any sense of suspense and there are no sympathetic characters.  The dialogue is often stilted and forced, and H is simply a ridiculous character, ping ponging from principled to trapped to downright gleeful. Director Gregor Jordan’s pacing is terrible with too much rambling and a careening off the rails finish.  The alternate ending is even worse.

On paper, Unthinkable has a solid cast, but they all get lost in the bad script.  Samuel L. Jackson does his usual swaggering smart-ass thing with occasional bouts of dementia and/or guilt while Carrie-Ann Moss languishes in the thankless role of the oh-so naïve FBI agent who learns the necessity-and bloodthirst-of torture.  Stephen Root is given little to do as H’s FBI handler, and Brandon Routh and Gil Bellows get even less as FBI agents under Brody’s command.  Michael Sheen proves he can scream and cry as Steve, but his role doesn’t require much beyond that.

Video and audio are both good, though the score occasionally gets quite loud.  For special features there is an extended (by two minutes) version of the film with an alternate ending and pompous audio commentary from director Gregor Jordan. 

If you’re a fan of torture and fake philosophizing, this film might be for you.  Otherwise, not so much.  It’s much more thoughtless than thought-provoking and it is easy to see why Unthinkable was never released in theaters.

Review by Michelle St. James