A terrorist releases a video claiming to have planted three nuclear bombs in cities across America. After he is apprehended it’s up to an FBI director (Carrie-Ann Moss) and a torture specialist (Samuel L Jackson) to bleed the truth out of him.
The set-up for this film could be plucked at random from a shelf of second-rate action movies from the 80s or 90s. But because it was made in 2010, instead of the usual running and shooting and car chases, there are extended scenes of extreme torture.
With ideas well above its station, it presents itself as a debate on the ethics of the War on Terror, a bit like Eye in the Sky, with Carrie-Ann Moss’s by-the-book pencil pusher, Agent Brody, in the corner of the Geneva Convention and Samuel L Jacksons’ ex-military hard-ass, ‘H’, in the corner of the Spanish Inquisition. Except unlike Eye in the Sky, it clearly favours one of the points of view it presents: this is a pro-torture film.
In answer to the question of whether it’s ok to torture someone to get the location of a ticking bomb it, it gives an enthusiastic ‘yes’ and throws their wife and children in for good measure. The protracted torture scenes are extremely uncomfortable to watch and there’s little joy to be found anywhere in the film, in spite of what its over-the-top premise suggests. The first procedure H carries out is cutting off a finger; and it gets progressively worse from there.
Martin Sheen plays the terrorist Yusef (formerly Steven Younger) and is forced to spend most of the film hanging by his wrists in a cell. Moss is solid as the lead character, while Jackson phones it in.
Other than that it’s unconvincingly written, intellectually unsatisfying and totally devoid of style. Would I watch it again? Unthinkable.