CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Blu-Ray Review: ‘Unthinkable’ Wastes First-Rate Cast, Solid Premise
CHICAGO – Samuel L. Jackson is an A-list actor stuck in the persona of a B-movie crowd-pleaser. His preference for schlock has made it difficult for viewers to take him seriously in roles that aren’t intended to be quoted by fanboys at Comic-Con. When his formidable interrogator in “Unthinkable” declares, “What I have to do, Agent Brody, is…unthinkable,” the line hits the exact wrong note of credibility-killing cheese that has marred Jackson’s career.
Of course, Jackson cannot be solely blamed for the multitude of flaws in the direct-to-video thriller “Unthinkable.” Director Gregor Jordan (“The Informers”) and screenwriter Peter Woodward (“Closing the Ring”) continue their slump into forgettable mediocrity by squandering a powerful and topical premise that has been tackled in a variety of recent pictures (the most memorable being “The Dark Knight”). It asks the obvious question of how a war on terror can be won without America resorting to the same inhumane tactics of the terrorists. Should interrogators resort to the torture of innocent children in order to acquire information that would prevent the death of millions?
Blu-Ray Rating: 2.5/5.0
This is profoundly serious subject matter worthy of an intelligent investigation onscreen, but Jordan and Woodward undermine it by taking the most routine approach possible. “Unthinkable” plays like the extended pilot for “24” knock-off, though its political position is decidedly more liberal. While the script tries to feign even-handedness, it’s clear that the filmmakers have no belief in the effectiveness of torture as a means of obtaining accurate confessions. That’s a fair stand to take, but the filmmakers convey it so clumsily that some viewers may feel convinced that the film actually endorses the torture policies promoted by Dick Cheney. Carrie Anne-Moss struggles mightily to strengthen her character, FBI agent Brody, who embodies the voice of female compassion, and thus, the argument against torture. Yet she just spends most of the time gawking at the fearsome methods of interrogator “H” (Jackson), who’s hellbent on making the life of U.S. nuclear expert-turned-Islamic terrorist Steven/Yusuf (Michael Sheen) a living hell.
Unthinkable was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 15th, 2010.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Jordan’s cynical view of the American military has been apparent ever since his 2001 satire “Buffalo Soldiers,” and the recent atrocities at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib certainly would seem to justify his sentiments. But “Unthinkable” is too murky and contrived to truly provoke. Sheen’s character is the most interesting, yet he doesn’t have much to do, apart from screaming. When he reveals his demands to the US government, they sound fairly level-headed, and undoubtedly mirror the views of many Americans. His story would’ve been a far more engaging centerpiece for the picture, and Sheen’s ferocious portrayal is a startling alternative to his trademark channeling of shifty Brits (he’d be a splendid choice for the role of BP Chief Tony Hayward).
“Unthinkable” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio), and offers an “unrated extended version” of the film that is a whopping two minutes longer than the original cut. The sole addition is an alternate ending that was added in after a test audience responded negatively to the script’s open-ended denouement. It feels as tacked-on as the final shot in “Basic Instinct,” where all ambiguity is shattered by a key detail. The new ending also blatantly emphasizes the filmmakers’ political slant on the material, though it ultimately doesn’t make the film any better or worse than it already is. The BD-Live-enabled disc also includes a movieIQ track, and an audio commentary from Jordan.
To his credit, Jordan makes the commentary a worthwhile listen by delving into the complex moral issues he had hoped to address in the film. However, he does seem blind to the fact that no film made about the current war, and certainly about the torture of prisoners, has ever connected with the mainstream public. He says that he aimed to entertain viewers who aren’t interested in politics, but are just looking for an efficient entry in the horror-thriller genre, likening his film to “Seven” and “Silence of the Lambs” (a comparison that seems borderline offensive under the circumstances). Jordan claims that he improved Woodward’s script by cutting out most (but not enough) of the speechifying, and making the character of Agent Brody more authoritative and less of a passive whiner. When Obama was elected halfway through the shooting, Jordan felt that the script had already become dated. He acknowledges, but doesn’t elaborate on, the film’s troubled pre-production, which took place in the midst of the actor’s strike and global financial crisis, and led to the film’s failure to secure a theatrical release. Jordan’s most interesting insights center on his onset conversations with a “torture advisor,” and his diplomatic relationship with the image-conscious FBI.