Unthinkable

UnthinkableNever heard of it?

That’s a little surprising, given the star power and the basic plot.

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Michael Sheen… check!

Plot: Soldier-turned-terrorist plants 3 nuclear bombs in 3 US cities. It’s Monday. They are scheduled to go off at noon on Friday. Genuine tension and thrills follow…. check!

Publicity: none… curious!
Release: straight to DVD… curiouser!

Despite my plot summary, Unthinkable is not another Tom Clancy novel turned into a movie: no Jack Ryan; low production values (they rented out a high school, not that it was a bad choice); no chases; no special effects. No Air Force One barreling down a runway as an ash cloud nips its tail; no press conferences; no somber news reports from the Oval Office. In fact, the soldier-turned-terrorist is caught early in the first act, and he needs to be interrogated.

And that is the movie.

If you recall the scenes of information-extraction from (that great TV show) Alias then you really have seen comparable information-extracting techniques. But in those scenes, of course, an evil man (often a foreign villain with a dentist’s drill) was carrying on with our heroes. You can show that on TV, because we (Americans) can and will overcome great evil! But what if the guy with the drill is Samuel L. Jackson, family man, and the prisoner in the chair is a US citizen?

What are the rights… the morality… when nuking 3 US cities is on the line?

Apparently, asking this interesting question does not mix well with a super-tub of popcorn, a big blue drink, and a box of candy-coated chocolates at the Bijou. So the decision-makers by-passed the theatrical release and went straight to DVD. What a pity: making a movie about an idea. As the story goes, the US box office did not like two fabulous, high-production value movies about terrorism, the search for WMDs, and the war that accompanied them (2008’s Hurt Locker and 2010’s Green Zone, which, by the way, make a great triple feature with Unthinkable), so the powers-that-be did not think audiences would even go see Unthinkable when the moral ambiguity was so high. We just don’t like knowing these things, or seeing them at the cinema. Don’t ask, don’t tell… and for pity’s sake, don’t make a movie about it.

And just to make matters that much more interesting, the DVD has the “original version” (the one planned for US release) and the “extended version” (the one planned for the rest of the world). The difference is 90 seconds, and it’s how you end the story.

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