by John Derbyshire

A few weeks ago I had an e-exchange with a reader about the efficacy of torture. It soon ended up, as those exchanges always do, with the “ticking bomb” scenario. (I.e. a nuke is about to go off in some city. We have a guy in custody who knows the location, but would much rather not tell us. What do we do?)

Well, my reader recommended I watch the movie Unthinkable. I’d never heard of it. (Neither had the couple of people I’ve mentioned it to at work this morning.) So I put it on our Netflix list & we watched it Saturday evening.

Very good movie. It follows all the “ticking bomb” arguments to a (I’m not quite ready to say the) logical conclusion. Samuel Jackson is at the top of his form.

Having watched it, I am now speculating about why it didn’t get more notice in the U.S. Not to mention proper distribution: it apparently went straight to DVD. (It’s date-stamped 2010.) Possibly it was just too politically incorrect. The terrorist who plants the nukes (Michael Sheen — another good performance) is an American convert to Islam. As everyone knows, movie terrorists have to be neo-Nazis with Cherrman accents, or Tim McVeigh-type hate-government loners … or soon, no doubt, members of Tea Party splinter groups.

Or perhaps the distributors thought it was just too strong. The torture scenes aren’t actually that bad — nothing like as bad as the stuff in routine splatter movies. The logic of the situation is shown very relentlessly, though. No movie could make me like a torturer; but I couldn’t push away the thought that Samuel Jackson was getting the better of all the arguments.

Well, see it and make up your own mind. Unthinkable is at least a fine example of an abstract argument turned into a strong drama. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s better than the average movie. In my house a movie has to pass the Dad Test: i.e. keep me awake all through after a good dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. Around one movie in three passes the Dad Test. This one passed easily.

Oh, P.S. If you rent the DVD, be sure to watch the extended version — there’s an option on the DVD main menu.

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