Most thrillers depend on an amount of ‘suspension of disbelief’ from the audience – one can forgive the occasional moment in a film where characters (either good or bad) behave in a way that’s dumb or illogical in order to move the story along to wherever it may take us. Its a conceit, pure and simple, and one which people have different levels of tolerance for. The filmmakers behind “Derailed” however must be expecting their audience to be off somewhere in fairyland as quite frankly only the most gullible of audience members will believe the all too routine twists, turns and dumb character actions that this story offers up in spades.
Starting off like a romantic drama, Owen and his downtrodden gruff charisma flirts briefly with the sharp but oddly restrained Aniston onboard a train. In the film’s best scenes, a slow burn romance is brewing and talk turns towards fooling around. Just as things seem to be slipping into adult romance territory – bang, it suddenly turns into a somewhat more gritty male version of “Unfaithful”. The second act is a mystery movie where right from the get go we as an audience have already figured out the big twist and spend the next half hour wondering why Owen is such a lunkhead who would fall for something so obvious.
The screenwriters at least don’t rest the film on that issue, revealing it and turning the last act into a ’emasculated male seeks revenge’ piece with a violent Hollywood type shootout ending and an utterly laughable just desserts coda (you half expect Glenn Close to pop up). Like most bad thrillers there’s absolutely no logic to much of it – characters never call the police because not only would that be realistic, but would immediately unravel what little story is left. Cops themselves are portrayed as chumps with the ubiquitous detective who knows something is going on and looks the other way when the final act goes down. When faced with crisis Owen will for the most part cower in fright, and then a scene later will suddenly find he knows how to use a weapon.
After the first half hour, Aniston all but disappears leaving most of the film resting on Owen’s shoulders. Given the right material the man can be a tour de force, here he just shuffles his way through with little real interest – perhaps because he’s a guy who looks like when he comes to a decision he’ll go through with it and yet, despite a rather uncomfortable groping scene, the man seems to have little in the way of balls let alone reasoning faculties. Vincent Cassel hops around as the typical over the top bad guy doing a stock part that melds into a dozen other films. Its the kind of turn that makes you wonder if there’s a scene on the cutting room floor with Cassel beating a puppy to death just to show off how bad this man is.
Mikael Hafstrom’s direction, with his dark tight interiors, is stifling – everywhere is dank, poorly lit and oppressive but not in a stylistic way. With so much focus on getting through the next unbelievable plot twist he fails to humanise the characters, the likes of Melissa George left to a few scant dialogue scenes to make the wife seem like the only reasonable (albeit naive) person in the picture. Hell every cliche in the book is here, in two scenes they practically wheel out a diabetic young daughter whom the bad guy of course insinuates raping.
“Derailed” ends up being a perfect example of how ambition can overstep reason. An attempt to develop an intricate story falls down like a house of cards under the weight of quickly piling up inconsistencies and laps in logic. Even some of the most ridiculous plots in the world can be overcome with solid performances, strong directorial style, slick pacing or engaging action. This fails on all four counts. Moody for sure, and never too dull in that – like a train wreck – you know the ultimate result is going to be a disaster, but you are curious to see the whole thing buckle under its own stress.