Here’s a rare high quality direct-to-DVD entry, that features a strong cast, and an extremely compelling story. The DVD offers two versions, but the “extended” version has the most satisfying story, and is thus reviewed in this column.
After a somewhat leisurely opening, the pic outlines its premise: A mentally-tough former Army explosives expert, originally named Steven Arthur Younger (Michael Sheen) but who now calls himself Yusuf Atta Mohamed, has released a video claiming that he has set three nuclear devices to detonate within three days. The video shows realistic-looking bombs at three separate locations, and they are described as being within large urban areas of the United States. Interestingly, Younger has allowed himself to be captured, and is brought to a secret facility.
FBI counter-terrorism agent Helen Brody (Carrie-Anne Moss)—whose activities are shown in the prologue—assumes that she will head up the interrogation, but is surprised to discover that the military is in charge, and the lead interrogator will be shadowy CIA contractor “H” (Samuel L. Jackson). H’s methods involve torture, and of course, Brody objects with the conventional wisdom that torture is ineffective.
H grimly replies: “So that’s why it’s been used for all of human history,” and forges ahead, setting up a sort of good cop/bad cop scenario with himself and Brody.
For her part, Brody thinks she is onto something by trying to convince Younger that they don’t believe the devices are real, and he should give up one of them to prove himself genuine. But Younger stalls and withstands the torture, only saying that tomorrow (Thursday) something will happen. Indeed. By a ruse, he gets a group of agents, including Brody, to a rooftop, where they inadvertently set off and observe an explosion (albeit not of a nuclear device) that kills 53 people.
Given the very real possibility that the lives of tens of millions of people are at stake, Brody’s overriding concern for the Geneva Convention and the constitutional rights of Younger seem a tad misplaced. It is only after this warning blast that she realizes that he is serious, and that this is not a training exercise, in which her measured responses (and her gender) would earn her quick promotions in the Bureau.
If you had any sympathy for her character, it is now surely lost. Brody is revealed to be a soulless by-the-book functionary, whose further words will drive this point home even more so.
At this, H kicks it up a notch. Younger’s wife and kids have been brought into the interrogation center. His wife undergoes brutal treatment, while he is forced to watch. Maybe Younger will crack.
However, we won’t find out. Amazingly, those in charge object to this treatment of an “innocent,” even though she and the children were caught trying to leave the country, so she is definitely aware of the bombing plot.
With time running out, and H worried that Younger may never talk, he has to move to interrogation techniques that are “Unthinkable.”
***SPOILERS AND OTHER COMMENTS***
The “unthinkable” technique will involve mock torture of the kids, in an effort to get Younger to crack. But even in the face of a nuclear catastrophe this—astonishingly—is not permitted. Exhibiting dementia far in excess of whatever H may have, Brody says “We can’t do this. Let the bombs go off.”
Strange talk inasmuch as H has figured out that there is a fourth bomb, and even though Younger finally does give up the three locations—after his wife is surprisingly slain by H—he clams up regarding the fourth. The fourth bomb was put in as a kind of “safety” held in reserve if he did succumb to the interrogation.
Tellingly, though, the bureaucrats are loathe to acknowledge this, even while some of them privately believe it. H tells Younger that he has won, and the childless careerist Brody comforts the two children she has supposedly saved.
Meanwhile, the government’s bomb squad deactivates the three devices, including the one in Los Angeles, where all the film’s action has taken place.
While the LA crew exchanges high fives, the camera slowly pans to a wall, behind which is the fourth nuclear device! We watch the digital timer count down 4…3…2…1, as we fade out.
Although slightly far-fetched in premise, the reaction of the bureaucrats is all too credible, and makes one wonder about Homeland Security.