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Derailed (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Director Mikael Hǻfström and writer Stuart Beattie have given us a well crafted thriller in which an ordinary man is drawn into terror through seemingly incidental actions, like missing a train and one bad decision. I first saw Clive Owen (Charles Schine) in Mike Hodges movies, like “Croupier,” (1998) and the execrable “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” (2003). Unfortunately for Clive because Mike didn’t have him do much but inhabit a body. Then he got away from Hodges and there was “King Arthur” and “Closer” and I became an admirer.

In this he has to act, along with Jennifer Aniston (Lucinda Harris) and Vincent Cassel (LaRoche), a terrifically hateful bad guy. Based on a novel by James Siegel, Stuart Beattie has provided a well-written script with a few plot holes, at least one gaping, but not enough to spoil the tension. At 110 minutes, it’s probably not too long because it takes about 20 minutes to set the stage for Charles to start to dig the hole out of which he tries to climb for the rest of the movie.

Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura views this as “Hitchcockian.” While it does resemble Hitch’s pre “Psycho” work, in that an ordinary man is caught up in something he doesn’t fully understand, Hitchcock had very little explicit violence in his movies. In fact, the most violent scene I can remember before “Psycho” (which, as far as I’m concerned marked the end of Hitch’s most brilliant period of the ‘50s; after that his work was second rate, at best) is when Grace Kelly kills Ray Milland in “Dial M for Murder” (1954) when we see Milland fall back on the pair of scissors she stuck in his back. Most, like “North by Northwest” (1959) and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) contained cerebral tension. You were worried about what might happen. Or you were worried because strange things are happening and you can’t figure out what they are or why they are, like, “Why me?”

So where this deviates from the Hitchcockian formula is that there is quite a bit of explicit violence. While it is Hitchcockian in terms of putting a relatively ordinary man in the middle of something terrible that he doesn’t understand, it’s not really cerebral. Schine’s problem is obvious, although he can legitimately ask, “Why me?” That said, kudos to di Bonaventura for bringing a good thriller to the screen.

Owen is a good looking guy and a good actor. The powers that be made a big mistake when they didn’t pick him as the next James Bond. He’s as close to being a cross between Ian Fleming and Sean Connery as they will ever find. As a big believer that Connery is the only James Bond, I could easily buy into Owen as his legitimate successor.

As good as Owen is, Aniston and LaRoche are his equal. This is a well-acted, well-directed, well-written thriller that kept me interested throughout.

November 9, 2005