Despite its “us vs. them” mentality, Unthinkable tackles the topic of torture in a neutral and thought-provoking manner.
Note: I purposely try to keep politics off this website as much as possible, but this film is too good to not talk about. If you are going to engage in a political discussion in the comments, please keep it civil and respectful. Differences of opinion and even heated debates are encouraged, but blatant trolling and asshattery are one way tickets to the spam folder.
The premise in Unthinkable is straight forward: a terrorist has hidden three nuclear bombs throughout the United States. After releasing a tape saying as such, he purposely gets himself caught, only to be heavily interrogated by Samuel L. Jackson. While the story is mildly interesting (if not a bit generic), it serves an excellent purpose: making the case both for and against the use of torture in regards to enemy combatants/terrorists. Note the use of the word “torture” here isn’t limited to waterboarding…we’re talking about some seriously heinous stuff including (but not limited to) electric torture, extreme temperature shifts, cutting, and even removing body parts. It’s use of brutal and, for lack of a better term, medieval forms of torture are a testament to its thought-provoking unbiased take on the topic: despite these over the top methods, the film still manages to present convincing arguments for and against the use of torture in the war on terror.
That being said, the visuals take a back seat to the entire point of the film. Unthinkable presents both sides of the torture argument in incredibly convincing ways, with the anti-torture side represented by Carrie-Anne Moss, and the pro-torture side represented by Samuel L. Jackson. The arguments made for and against torture start out generically (and, at times, delve into talking-points territory), but the line quickly blurs, causing even the characters to second guess their preconcieved notions of right and wrong. I have my own opinion on the whole torture debate, but I gotta say, this film did a great job of presenting the point of view that there is no right answer to the problem. Logically, yes, the horrible death of one man could save millions of people, but at the same time we would sacrifice what we stand for as a country (or at least what we’re SUPPOSED to stand for, anyway…that “supposed to” part plays a big role here, bluring the line even further.)
It’s all fine and well that the film approaches a touchy subject in a balanced and intelligent way, but how is it as an actual film? I’m happy to say that, even when ignoring the well-thought out opinions shown, Unthinkable is still a really entertaining movie. It does get a little “America! Fuck Yeah!” at times, but given the topic that isn’t too surprising. The cinematography doesn’t get in the way of the story or the dialogue, and acts as nothing more than to provide a view of what’s going on. The script has a few campy lines (most notably the line that includes the film’s title), but it really pulls together and shows some quality writing when it needs to. The acting is mostly top-notch here: the film was well cast, and the actors/actresses seem like they really got lost in some of their roles. Samuel L. Jackson is particularly effective as the ruthless interrogator/loving family man, with a tired smile so convincing, you actually believe that he could do these horrible things while fully realizing what is physically happening. Carrie-Anne Moss manages to avoid the dreaded “poor me” stereotypical female roll, and instead presents a character that is strong-willed and highly intelligent. I’ll admit, when I first learned of her role in this film, I was a little worried about how she would portray the material, but she did a great job.
You know how I said Unthinkable is an entertaining film? It’s important to approach it as such, and nothing more. It’s very thought provoking, and will likely incite a hefty debate with whomever you watch it with, but the film itself is still nothing more than entertainment. There are acts and procedures (not referring to the torture bits, but rather Government departmental and operational stuff) that would NEVER, EVER happen in real life…but as long as you keep that in mind, you’ll probably have a great time watching it.
Unthinkable is a solid film for many reasons. Between its entertainment factor, convincing acting, and realistic level-headed views on the use (and non-use) of torture, it’s one you should definitely watch with another person. Be sure to make some coffee; you’re going to be up late thinking and talking about this one.