The Chicago train company featured in Derailed is regretting their involvement. It seems that this year a Metro train did in fact derail and a number of people died and scores more were injured. I suppose this would be akin to Enron being featured in a movie called Big Fat Lying Energy Thieves. Then again, maybe one of the company’s execs took a look at the script.
Charles (Clive Owen) is an ad ex who feels crushed by his life. His marriage is deteriorating, his adolescent daughter has a severe case of diabetes and is in need of a new kidney, and he’s been booted from a project at work. All he needs now is the film favorite car to drive in front of him and splash water. On a train ride to work, he’s helped by Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston), a dark beauty Charles can’t seem to resist. They share pictures of their kids, accounts of their spouses, and their saliva with some open-mouthed kissing. Both are conflicted about following through with an affair, but finally decide to act. They get a room at a motel, roll around on the bed, but are interrupted by a French intruder named Laroce (Vincent Cassel). He robs them, beats Charles into submission, and rapes Lucinda. She doesn’t want to go the cops and just wants the nightmare to end. If her husband ever finds out about the almost-affair she’ll never see her kid again. Charles adjusts but is now getting threatening phone calls, asking for increasingly large sums of money or else his wife will know the truth.
This is your prototypical thriller that survives due to the stupidity of its characters. Only in your rote thriller would characters ever dare to go about their infidelity in a seedy motel, leave the door unlocked, and then after being beaten, robbed, and raped, not go to the police. Only in your by-the-book thriller would the assailant return to implausibly blackmail our leads for money under the threat of exposing their affair. Only in your standard thriller would a character actually say, “It’s all over now. We’re safe. Everything’s fine,” without a hint of irony. It’s like these people had never seen a movie before. The villains are not exempt either. They repeat their scam at the exact same locations in the exact same manner, meaning anyone with a decent memory could trip up this criminal masterwork. (Spoilers follow) Like the preposterous Flightplan, this elaborate scheme to make money hinges on some pretty big assumptions: 1) that Charles will never go to the police at any turn, even when the other option involves draining $100,000 out of his own kid’s kidney fund, and 2) that Charles would never drop by Lucinda’s work and talk to anyone who remotely knew her. I just thought of another one: 3) that Charles would never question why they’re only blackmailing him for money when Lucinda has a higher paying job and much more at stake to lose (end spoilers). Derailed is too true of a title when it comes to the movie’s process of logic. Then again, thrillers typically spit in the face of logic and this is no different.
Derailed would like to strike the same vein that Fatal Attraction hit so well; in fact, there’s a scene in the middle that’s a direct rip-off where Charles rushes home to find his wife chatting with his antagonist. The first half-hour of Derailed is well done and pretty interesting, but the film really goes off the tracks when the blackmail plot starts mounting ridiculous, implausible plot turns. This film would have been so much better as a straightforward drama than a dime-a-dozen thriller. As a drama we’d witness Charles wrestle with guilt, the decision of whether not to tell his wife, and the moral quandary of wondering if their attack was somehow justified as a punishment (no, rape is NEVER justified). It could be a really strong character study. Derailed goes the far more conventional route and brings in an outside force of antagonism and some foreseeable twists.
Clive Owen is wasted in a role that mostly requires that he get his ass handed to him. He’s a fantastic actor, a natural badass, and he just smolders with charisma, menace, and intensity. He was one of the highlights of a stellar cast in Sin City and was my top candidate for the new James Bond. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see him beaten and bullied for almost the entire duration of the movie. For crying out loud, even a cop bullies him into paying a hooker he had nothing to do with. It reminds me of 2002’s Enough where Jennifer Lopez was beaten and antagonized for so long that the audience was practically feasting for blood. This might explain Derailed‘s tacked-on epilogue. Owen still gives a credible performance even though his accent slips from time to time.
Despite what the marketing folks may have you believe, Jennifer Aniston is really a minor character in the film. I’m not that particularly taken with Aniston as an actress; I thought 2002’s The Good Girl could have been The Great Girl, or at least The Better Girl with a stronger lead. In Derailed you can tell she’s playing against type because her hair is darker. Aniston is effective at turns in Derailed, but really “at turns” is all she’s given to work with. This is Clive Owen’s movie.
Casell (Ocean’s Twelve) really relishes his creepy villain and can make your hair stand on edge. Xzibit pimps no rides but also does little to pimp his role, becoming nothing more than a gruff thug. Fellow rapper RZA (is it possible to spell that wrong?), in comparison, imbues Winston with a stronger personality than the meager role deserved. It’s also very convenient for a bourgeoisie white male to have a black mail room friend (with a criminal record, of course Hollywood) to fall back on when trouble strikes. Fans of TV’s Alias will recognize Owen’s wife played by Melissa George and instantly hate her. I should know, I watched Derailed with an Alias fan and she still hasn’t forgiven George for coming between Sydney and Vaughn.
It’s not that Derailed is particularly terrible, it’s just rather ordinary, predictable, and at turns lurid and trashy. Owen is wasted as a wimpy man with a guilty conscience that gets beaten and bullied for ¾ of a movie. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon at the movies and fans of the thriller genre should be relatively satisfied. Derailed isn’t a movie you’ll hate yourself in the morning over seeing, but then again it’s nothing too special. You could probably turn on TV right now and catch 3 or 4 thrillers with the same plot and similar twists. You could also watch Friends. Just go watch TV instead of seeing Derailed. Something’s got to be on. In a couple years it’ll be Derailed.
Nate’s Grade: C