Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Spoilers Galore

I didn’t read Roger Ebert’s review of Derailed before I watched the movie, because he said there’d be spoilers in his review; the same applies to this one. If you haven’t seen the movie, and want to, don’t read any further.
Derailed takes a good deal of time to set itself up, and for quite a bit of its first twenty minutes or so, doesn’t seem like much of a thriller. However, all the set up is essential for the later part of the movie, and is in fact the most logical section of the movie, all up. Derailed is exciting enough in its own unusual way; certainly every time the villain (Vincent Cassel) appears things turn pretty scary. He’s one of those uninhibited creatures who can walk into the hero’s home without batting an eyelid and set about charming the wife and the daughter as though this was all perfectly normal. And then, as soon as the wife and daughter are out of the way, he literally grabs the hero by the balls and threatens him again. Nastiest of all, he manages to survive being shot late in the movie in order to turn up for the final scenes.
Derailed is one big scam: both the audience and the hero are fooled by it for a good deal of time, but it’s when the scam is finally revealed, and the hero (something of a worm) turns and becomes proactive that things cease to hold together. A major shoot-up late in the piece that leaves four characters dead is dramatic, but almost as full of holes as the characters; and the possibility that the villain could survive this without the hero knowing, or, apparently, the police (!), is absurd in hindsight. This section is a bit of a cheat really. But then the whole thing is about cheating. Jennifer Aniston plays a woman who’s job is to ‘cheat’ in the financial area – or so she tells us. In fact, she’s cheating the hero and the audience rather than anyone financial. The hero cheats on his wife – almost – and gets himself into big blackmailing difficulties as a result. We find out late in the piece that he’s cheated on his boss, by ‘borrowing’ some money from the firm, but he’s also cheated on his wife in a different way by siphoning off the hard-earned savings they’ve put together for their diabetic daughter’s future. While his intentions are good – in a sense – they just put him and his family into deeper and deeper holes. And even the boss cheats, by allowing a big account holder to walk all over the hero in an early scene without supporting him in any way. There’s another piece of cheating gone on before the movie starts too: the hero has covered up for an ex-con who’s working in his firm. Again his intentions may have been honourable, but they seem unwise in hindsight.
In spite of my quibbles, this is a satisfying movie to watch: it’s well put together, the cast are excellent (Clive Owen has the worn-out and sometimes bewildered face of Henry Fonda in The Wrong Man, and Aniston is miles away from her Friends character); the photography, design and direction are all top quality, and even with the cheating ending, it still works. Some of the minor characters are a bit underwritten: Owen’s lawyer never seems to get off one note, and the black detective who turns up late in the proceedings might seem threatening, but Owen gives him the brush-off in every scene they have together. Equally, we never know why his boss appears to be so unsupportive, or why Owen’s wife (who seems young enough to be his daughter) is apparently remote.
Obviously I’m pretty much alone in liking the movie (Ebert says it’s okay); however, there’s a fairly friendly interview with Clive Owen on the movie here.
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