Netflix Minute is a weekly feature highlighting a title from Netflix's catalog of instant view films. If you want to spend a night snuggled up with a bag of popcorn and don't want to drive to the video store, this is for you.
"This man has planted three nuclear bombs in your country. They will go off in 3 days. How far would you go?" This is the text taken directly from the poster for Gregor Jordan's Unthinkable. With the ever-present threat of terrorism on the American collective consciousness, this film digs into the cutthroat instinct of men to do anything it takes for the sake of national safety and preservation. The premise is just about as extensive as the strapline suggests, meaning Unthinkable is just about as good as its execution.
One of the easiest things to mess up in a movie of this type is the exposition. When intrigue plays a major factor in a movie's plot, the exposition often frontloads the movie. The first twenty minutes of this hundred minute film have little to no forward momentum, which basically forces the plot to play catchup for the rest of the runtime. While exposition may be important, Unthinkable could have easily adopted the technique of crosscutting explanatory dialogue with scenes depicting the actual events unfolding or any number of other ways of keeping things moving.
Instead of the aforementioned techniques, director Gregor Jordan relies heavily on an overbearing score and the performances of Carrie Anne Moss and Samuel Jackson. The score tends to swell at the exact moments where the actions depicted on screen are supposed to have a thrilling effect on the viewer, but the lack of momentum and heavyhanded usage of said score ultimately detract from these scenes. On the other hand, Moss and Jackson play surprisingly good opposite sides of the same coin. The former comes off as a naive believer in justice and enemy of torture, while the latter is willing to put his real self into the dark to do whatever it takes to get the information he needs. As bad as the writing can be in spots, the performances of these two keep this movie afloat.
That leads to the heart of the matter and the central conflict of this film - torture. All of the events that unfold clearly call into question whether or not torture can simply be a terrible means to a just end. More importantly, the viewer is left to contend with the effectiveness of these despicable forms of sucking questionable intelligence out of an "enemy combatant". The one thing I can say is Unthinkable unseats 24 as the best piece of mainstream visual media to critique torture that I've ever seen, for whatever that's worth.The single-minded focus of this film to contribute to this national conversation ultimately sacrifices these solid performances rather than using them to help illustrate the intricacies of the debate.
Ultimately, the small things that I liked about this movie were overshadowed by some of the heavyhanded elements meant to sensationalize. While I don't require (or necessarily prefer) entertainment in film, showing me a bunch of torture scenes and people alternately shouting about how the torture is so wrong/necessary simply can't sustain Unthinkable. Unless you're dying to see Carrie Anne Moss, Samuel L. Jackson, or Michael Sheen turn in good performances despite a shoddy script, this Netflix title should be avoided.