How much is the life of one man worth when millions are at stake? On paper pretty much, but in reality it’s pretty worthless. The show 24 has shown us that over the years that to get results and save lives you have to torture people despite Geneva conventions. Audiences never publicly disagreed with Jack Bauer’s method of getting results because all the guys he tortured were bad guys and the torturing would lead him to saving many innocent lives. But approving torture is a slippery slope but it’s always an interesting discussion; how do you treat someone who would kill you and countless other in a blink of an eye?
Steven Arthur Younger (an engaging Michael Sheen) is an American Muslim who became radical and claims to have planted three nuclear bombs in a various locations in America, all said to be highly populated. He made a video as proof which is in hands of the American government as is Younger himself. He is being held in a secret facility on American soil when the FBI is called in, led by Agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss) who is expecting that she’s going to question Younger and talk him into releasing the location of the bombs before they detonate. Once at the scene it turns out she doesn’t have much jurisdiction and that Younger’s citizen-status has been revoked making him stateless and therefor not able to claim his constitutional rights. This is where the character of H. played with his usual menace by Samuel L. Jackson steps in. Already introduced in an unnecessary prologue he turns out to be a black-ops interrogator who has no limits in his ways of torture. As a simple demonstration he starts by cutting of two of Younger’s finger-tops.
H’s ways, approved directly by the White House, lead to confrontations with H. and the rest of the people on scene, especially Brody who believes in things like the Geneva convention.
If there is an agenda it is that torturing is necessary to protect the safety of the general public. The movie doesn’t even try to play the morality card by making it unknown to us whether Younger is guilty or not. The movie opens with him video-taping himself making his claims and stating his demands. We know he’s a terrorist, we know there are millions of lives at stake and we witness how questioning and legal torture methods like water-boarding don’t work on him. Despite this Agent Brody wants to do this by the book even though there is little time. Discussions are fueled by both parties; if you torture him everything he says might be a lie just to stop the torment/then why has it been deemed to work since the dawn of man? Occasionally Younger gets to prove that it’s not able to reason with him when he claims our freedom is a false God.
Only at the end the movie really enters territory about how far you could go with torture, and at that point H. has put Younger through a lot and is already missing some parts of his body. At that point it’s still unclear whether H. is doing just a job or is getting some sadist enjoyment from his work. This one of the themes that support the storyline of finding the bombs. Another is that of the slow transition of Agent Brody who opposes torture but over time is forced to adjust her opinion due to the possibility of millions of casualties becoming reality with every minute that passes.
Similar to 24 in its set-up of torturing against a ticking clock, Unthinkable isn’t as adrenaline-fueled even though it has a real nice pace that never bores. Jackson takes a lot of pauses while the clock keeps on ticking and there are enough discussions that you might want to have after you’ve retrieved the bombs, not before. Which also goed for the movie itself, which will probably fuel plenty of discussions.