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Thriller ‘Derailed’ barely stays on track

James Costa | Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Audiences who expect a simple and obvious thriller in “Derailed” might be in for a pleasant surprise. While it encapsulates many of the common elements of the thriller, with surprise twists and obvious methods of foreshadowing, it succeeds on a far deeper level of connecting the viewer with common human emotions and then interweaving them into a state of confusion and mayhem. Still, the film falls short where it really counts.

The film does have a certain B-movie vibe that seems reminiscent of such films as “Unfaithful” with Richard Gere and “A Perfect Murder” with Michael Douglas. But it succeeds in its own right at presenting a surprisingly fresh perspective to the seedy underworld of sexual infidelity and deception.

The film essentially begins on the commute to Chicago when, late for work, Charles (Clive Owen) is out of cash and cannot buy a ticket. He is about to be kicked off the train when a gorgeous woman (Jennifer Aniston) offers to pay his fare.

After a few pleasantries, the two learn they are both successful business people in the city. Lucinda (Aniston) is a financial consultant with a beautiful baby girl and a negligent husband. Charles feels attracted because he too has a beautiful daughter and faltering marriage.

Following some innocent commuter flirtation, the two meet for drinks after work. The drinks lead to phone calls to their respective spouses detailing their plans to not come home till morning. Building on their lies together, the two plan a night in a hotel and the beginnings of an affair.

After sobering up a bit, Lucinda decides she cannot follow through with the affair. But after standing with Charles in the street for a bit, they both see a seedy hotel and decide to get the room.

After beginning their interaction in the room, a sudden burst erupts from the door and a violent, gun-bearing stranger breaks in. He brutally pistol-whips Charles into a state of semi-consciousness and then proceeds to viciously rape Lucinda.

The rape scene is especially powerful and disturbing because it is shot from the perspective of Charles. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he is powerless to stop the horrible acts being performed on Lucinda. He wishes to stop them but simply cannot, and the camera and direction conveys this quite well.

After deciding not to go to the police because of the danger of exposing their planned infidelity, the two return to their regular lives until the rapist – a French man named Laroche (the disturbing Vincent Cassel) demands huge sums of money from Charles in order to protect his family from further violence.

From this point on in the film, “Derailed” builds slowly and deftly with tension and fear until the shocking truth is revealed. The twist is actually completely surprising. Audiences will very likely be taken in by the shocking climax, which is difficult to predict.

The film then begins to expose a series of less-important and even more shocking events until ending at a scene that is rather outlandish, though somewhat satisfying. Like most Hollywood thrillers, it thrives on the suspense it builds.

But on a more important note, “Derailed” fails to say anything new, relevant or insightful about the human condition that the viewer did not already know before seeing the film, though it seems to try.