At first glance, Unthinkable looks derivative and unoriginal, like something trying to capitalize on the whole justifiable torture topic. Oh I'm sorry, "advanced interrogation techniques." But if you look past that you'll find a very solid thriller with some great performances. The question of whether or not torture is justified is present but not necessary, it only helps make a strong movie stronger.
Michael Sheen plays Yusuf, formerly Younger, an American Muslim who claims to have planted nuclear bombs in three major U.S. cities. In an effort to extract the necessary information, he's thrown in a small room, strapped to a chair, and tortured in increasingly severe ways. The man behind the pain is H (Samuel L. Jackson) and strongly opposing him is FBI Special Agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss). Rounding out the rest of the cast are Gil Bellows, Brandon Routh, and Martin Donovan, who all doing an excellent job of bringing their characters to life, even in the tiniest roles.
Michael Sheen is mesmerizing in her portrayal of someone who knows all-too-well why he's there. Despite his threats, you can't help but feel extremely sympathetic towards him. Given what's happening, you'd be a monster not to. During the course of the interrogation the possibility of it being a hoax is brought up several times, as there are serious possibilities that need to be considered. Are they harming an innocent man? Is this all a ploy to bring out the ugly side of the US Government? Do the bombs even exist? I found myself seriously pulling for that to be the case, not just because I wanted a casualty-free resolution, but I also wanted to believe that Yusuf isn't capable of such violence. We never even learn that much about Yusuf, but such compassion is the result of seeing someone go through unimaginable pain.
And then we have Samuel L. Jackson, who shines as a man completely and purposefully disconnected from his emotions. He does what he does not because it's the right thing to do. Right and wrong are irrelevant. It simply needs to be done to get the information that they need. It's a means to a completely justified end. He makes this clear several times, screaming at people who try to stop him, calling them selfish. "It's not about you," he yells. It's about the people who could die in those bomb blasts. Of course, our guts tell us that torture is wrong. It's reprehensible and can never be justified. But Agent Brody puts it all in perspective when she says something to the effect of "then let the bombs go off, we can't do this."
Is that the moral solution? To let the bombs detonate just to save one man from physical pain? I have no idea, nor do I want to know. But it's an important question and another reason why Unthinkable is a strong film that will leave a lasting impression, despite its quiet arrival with little fanfare.
If you like thrillers, see this movie. Even if you have no interest in the whole torture debacle or have already made up your mind, this is a great movie filled with great performances. There are twists and turns along the way that will leave you breathless, but they're not done for shock value. They all matter. And even if you manage to see something coming, it won't ruin your enjoyment, evidenced by the fact that I want to watch it again right now.
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