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DVD Review: Derailed

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Note to the filmmakers of Derailed: the Everyman hero is only sympathetic when he falls into a hole, not when he digs the hole himself. Charles Schine (Clive Owen) seems like a decent enough man, but every choice he makes spectacularly detonates in his face. We’re on his side at first, but by the fifth time Charles has a critical lapse in judgement, our faith in him has disintegrated, along with our patience.

The film starts promisingly enough. Charles, a middle class Chicago banker (with Clive Owen’s Brit accent), meets Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston, trying too hard to get away from Friends) on the train to work. They hit it off, even though Charles has a wife and extremely sick daughter at home. Charles and his wife haven’t been getting along well, while Lucinda and her husband rarely speak. The scenes where they reluctantly but dangerously connect could put us off to Charles, but instead it appears to be an understandable mistake (the last one he’ll make in the film).

They rent a fleabag motel room to seal the deal, but the film switches tracks when LaRouche (Vincent Cassel), a vile thug, robs them both and rapes Lucinda. After he leaves, Charles suggests they call the police, but Lucinda stubbornly refuses. She doesn’t want her husband to know, although Charles’ face suggests that he is aware hiding this sort of thing can’t work out.

So why doesn’t he call the cops anyway? Does it seem like a good idea for Charles to use the money for his daughter’s kidney medicine to pay off LaRouche when he comes snooping around the house? Could Charles at least go buy his own gun for protection? Whatever Charles should do, he glumly does the opposite, though a phone call could end the madness at any time.

Owen does what he can to make Charles likeable, but the script works feverishly against him. It even relies on one of those Clever Bad Guy Schemes where the hero must do exactly what they planned, or the evil lattice would break apart. Sprinkled into the already derivative mix are several scenes where Charles awkwardly stands around, trying to hide a secret from the cops, his wife, his coworkers, etc.

Derailed has good performances, and scores a few points at the end with some bloody revenge, though even those scenes come at the cost of character continuity. Any thriller where the audience contemplates whether or not the Everyman hero has earned his misfortune will find itself plunging off the tracks. Which reminds me, I would like to suggest that a film with a title like Derailed should be a guaranteed masterpiece from the start, because the invitation to write a negative pun gets more tempting than an eager and willing Jennifer Aniston. And that’s a lot.

2 out of 5.

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About James Frazier

  • If this film had been made in the ’70s, it would have not had any big stars. It likely would have been produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff or David Friedman. It would have been unrepentent in its sleaziness.

    And you know what? It would have been a whole lot better than this rubbish, whose embarassment at its own material feels genuine.

  • I think the filmmakers could have stood to feel more embarassment, because perhaps then they would have bothered to go over a few rewrites.

    Great observation about the 70’s; this film would have benefited much from that kind of treatment. It certainly could have used some more frontal nudity and violence as punctuation.

  • I agree with your assessment of the film but I would give it at least 3 stars. I think that Charles should have been packing heat after the whole seedy hotel incident. Instead he gets an ex-con, co-worker to try to scare the baddies with an empty gun? Smooth move. What ‘self-respecting’ thug (ex or current) would try to pistol whip an adversary with an empty gun?

  • Definitely with you about packing heat. A good holdout pistol certainly would have been a wise choice. I can even believe that Charles is such a pacifist that he wants nothing to do with guns, but then at the the ending his behavior shifts dramatically, and he has no problem seeking out bloody vengance. Could they have made the character less consistent?

    To the film’s credit, it is watchable. I could see where many would like it a lot, though I have a hard time envisioning anybody awarding it 4 or 5 out of 5.