Director : Mikael Håfström
Screenplay : Stuart Beattie (based on the novel by James Siegel)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Clive Owen (Charles Schine), Jennifer Aniston (Lucinda Harris), Vincent Cassel (Philippe Laroche), Melissa George (Deanna Schine), RZA (Winston Boyko), Addison Timlin (Amy Schine), Tom Conti (Elliot), Xzibit (Dexter), Giancarlo Esposito (Detective Church)
Part Hitchcockian exercise in ruthless “wrong man at the wrong time” tension and part pseudo-film noir, Derailed tells the story of a beleaguered suburban father/husband who makes one fatally bad decision and then spends the rest of the movie suffering for it. Because his bad decision involves adultery, the film also has some Fatal Attraction moralistic overtones, along with that movie’s redemptive ending.
Clive Owen brings a brooding smolder to the role of Charles Schine, Chicago ad executive who meets another married executive, Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), on the commuter train into work one morning. They dance around their obvious attraction to each other for a while, each casually mentioning how the fire has gone out of their respective marriages; her husband works too much, and his wife is constantly on edge and tense, a situation exacerbated by the fact that their daughter has Type I diabetes and has already rejected three kidneys. One night, Charles and Lucinda finally break down and head to a motel, but their tryst is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Philippe Laroche (Vincent Cassel), a seedy hood who turns their night of potential transgressive bliss into a nightmare.
Without giving away too much, suffice it say that both Charles and Lucinda pay dearly that evening, physically and emotionally. Traumatized, they decide not to go to the police, which turns out to be another big mistake because Laroche doesn’t disappear, but rather begins heckling Charles for money, threatening to expose his adulterous liaison if he doesn’t pay up. At this point, the film begins to take on the escalating tone of Cape Fear, particularly Martin Scorsese’s 1991 version, which also traded on the sinister intermingling of threat and guilt. To protect both his family and himself, Charles must constantly bend to Laroche’s demands, but as the stakes increase, the choices become less obvious. If Charles gives Laroche the money he wants, he will have to clean out the savings he and his wife set aside for their daughter’s treatment; thus, he may save her in the short term, but doom her to eventual death without medication.
Swedish director Mikael Håfström, making his English-language debut from a screenplay by first-time scribe Stuart Beattie, who adapted a novel by James Siegel (Collateral), does the audience the service of not tacking on too many visual flourishes that might detract from the essential emotionalism of the story. Rather, he puts much of the film’s weight in the hands of Clive Owen, who wisely plays the line between Charles the soft suburbanite and Charles the man primed to explode. An actor of less screen presence probably couldn’t have pulled off Charles’ third-act revenge strategy, but Owen makes it seem plausible because he plants the seeds early in the film, suggesting that his character’s descent into violence is not as long a journey as we might suspect. In fact, if anything, Charles comes across like a man who has been waiting for something like this to happen, something that would allow him to unleash all the mounting anger and frustration.
Unfortunately, Derailed goes exactly one sequence too long, tacking on an additional ending that punches home what had already happened, but with less energy and less plausibility. Right up until that point, the film is good enough to keep us from questioning the details; it generates enough of a headlong emotional rush to pull us right along, but then trips over its final 10 minutes, stumbling its way to a unconvincing happy ending that reeks of a “please the focus group” mentality.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 The Weinstein Company and Miramax Films