The videotape rolls: “My name is Yusuf Mohammad, my former name is Steven Arthur Younger, and I have planted three nuclear bombs across the country. They will detonate unless my demands are met.” He then points the camera at exhibit A, looking suspiciously like a nuclear bombs with oh, I should say, about 4.5 pounds of uranium capable of killing 10 million people. The bombs are due to go off in three days time.
First off, let me get the inevitable comparison out of the way. Unthinkable is 24: The Movie, by any other name, but Jack Bauer is replaced (perhaps fittingly) by not one but two people. First, we have Agent Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss) of, yes, the CTU. She’s the logical, calm side of counter terrorism. Representing the hawks, so to speak, is H. (Samuel L. Jackson) who, when we first meet him, is casually disarming and gaffer-taping two FBI agents who have the audacity to knock at his door. The FBI have called in H., you see, because Younger has willingly let himself be arrested so as to face his enemy knowing full well the sort of interrogations he can expect to have to endure. So, we have the nuclear scenario, the ticking countdowns, the torture porn, and Muslim fanaticism. We just need Chloe to upload the schematics to Jack’s PDA to complete the set.
The CTU, the FBI and the military have all moved to a secure area, a high-school gymnasium, where they present Younger in a holding tank, centre-stage. He is being casually worked over by an army interrogator: Sleep deprivation, hot and cold torture, a bit of the ol’ psychological stuff, but nothing untoward. It’s still too much for peacenik Brody, though, who cites the Geneva Convention and other do-gooder citizens rights. As the song goes, she ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. H. steps in, muttering something like “amateurs” as he goes, and for his opening gambit cuts off two of Younger’s fingers. “You have to make them believe you have no limits”, he tells the horrified onlookers as he straps electrodes to Younger’s private and presumably shrivelled parts. This is not 24; simply shouting the witness into submission is not going to work here.
Brody and H. team up in a good-cop/bad-cop way, both of them trying to find the location of the bombs. Younger, though, is ex-military and a tough nut to crack. When not gently interrogating Younger, Agent Brody instructs the rest of her team to go on any clues they might have – the wife, perhaps, or the locations on the tape. The clock is ticking…
Unthinkable is a well-written movie that works despite some average direction. For example, the characters, despite being senior officials in their chosen fields, speak that dumbed-down language that we so often see in identikit movies. They constantly feel the need to spell out exactly what it is that they’re doing, for fear that we, the viewer, might miss something important or technical. At one point, Agent Brody unrolls a map — a giant map is always handy in such situations — and tries to deduce the locations of the bombs. “New York, I would think”, she says, “And on the West Coast perhaps LA. In the middle, maybe Chicago or Dallas.” The map: Worth its weight in gold again.
Michael Sheen, formerly seen primarily as an impersonator in movies such as Frost/Nixon, The Queen and The Damned United, is the pick of the actors here. His Younger is a man with conviction, a man with the destinies of millions of people in his hands, and an unflinching drive to remove the troops from Islamic nations. Jackson revels in his role of torturer/interrogator — think Olivier’s Szell in Marathon Man, times a hundred — but the winner in this movie is writer Peter Woodward (son of Edward) who has written a screenplay that transcends it’s rather average re-telling. Flaws or no flaws, I was intrigued from start to finish.