Unthinkable

Unthinkable, starring Samuel L Jackson and Michael Sheen, poises many questions about “things which cannot be easily comprehended”:

  • Is it unthinkable that an American who has converted to Islam would actually put his faith before his nationality?
  • Is it unthinkable that terrorists with foreign loyalties would attack the USA?
  • Is it unthinkable that, in response to overwhelming terrorist threat, the US would roll out brutal torture of its own citizens?
  • Is it unthinkable that Samuel L. Jackson will not, for once, phone in his performance?

In Unthinkable, An American Muslim has planted nuclear bombs in unidentified cities all across the USA. His demands are simple but, since we don’t negotiate with terrorists, the government follows two parallel tracks to find out where he’s hidden the bombs. There’s a female CIA Special Agent who does the good cop thing, and there’s Samuel L. Jackson, who’s the bad cop. No sooner has he got the prisoner in his soundproofed cell, old Sam’s pulling out all the enhanced interrogation techniques money can buy. So the drama and conflict is set up quite nicely. It’s just that it doesn’t quite work because the entire premise on which the film is based, the “unthinkability” of it all, is flawed. Let me explain:

  • Firstly, Michael Sheen, fantastic though he is, is indelibly imprinted in my mind as the unctuous Tony Blair. He’s a Brit. He’s a foreigner. It’s therefore not, in the light of the War on Terror and Orange Alerts and interminable fuss and bother at airports, unthinkable that a foreigner would in fact attack the USA.
  • Secondly, to that point, the right wing in the USA is enthusiastically pushing the meme that American Muslims are Muslims first and American second: see the debate about the Cordoba Community Centre that’s down the block and round the corner from the Twin Towers site, and you’ll see that Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Osama Bin Laden are all on message on this point….
  • Thirdly, the US government tortures. There: I called it – even if the New York Times won’t. There’s nothing surprising about this, and frankly, not much to debate. A little bit tortured is like a little bit pregnant.
  • Fourthly, Samuel L. Jackson will never disappoint. He flatlines to the occasion, playing Samuel L. Jackson collecting his paycheque. He’s like the African American Michael Caine.