Derailed (2005)
Genius Products
Cast: Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Making-of Documentary, Theatrical Trailer

"I got all kinds of guilt…"

Morality tales are often packed with warnings about the ways we should proceed through our lives. On one hand, they tap into our subconscious and remind us that consequences lurk in every corner of every decision we make. On the other hand, they tend to be predictable rehashes that relish in watching their characters come undone. "Derailed", the first mainstream release from foreign director Mikael Håfström, is just such a tale that works on a few levels as an average thriller, but occasionally falters under the transparent hand it deals its audience.

Business executives Charles and Lucinda (Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston) conveniently meet on the subway, end up in a coffee shop, talk about life, and realize that neither one is as happy as they appear. Inevitably, one thing leads to another and their relationship escalates up the elevator of a trashy hotel. But fate has little interest in seeing these two find love and a dangerous killer named LaRoche (Vincent Cassel) busts into their hotel room, beats Charles to a pulp, and rapes Lucinda. After robbing them, our villain discovers that Chuck is married to another woman and he begins to methodically blackmail him for everything he has. What follows is a sinister and tense film where Owen gets to flex his performance muscles and pull a run-of-the-mill clone away from the rest of the pack.

I was impressed to see this average story receive the support of two, wonderful actors. Owen is by far the biggest draw and he plays things quietly, morphing Charles into a weak-willed and vulnerable victim of circumstance. Aniston is the most startling, leaving the character of Rachel in the storage shed at NBC. Her portrayal of Lucinda is dark and troubled, sexual and cold… and I frankly wasn't expecting to see an actress from her background tackle this kind of material with such an evolved performance. Rounding out the cast are two, excellent performances from Xzibit and Rza. Xzibit isn't given much to do as a henchman but you can feel his character's need to explode boiling below the surface. Rza is dead on as an office janitor who means well and tries to help Charles out with his criminal problem. A lot of filmmakers have found an untapped reserve of acting talent in the rap industry. These rookie actors, and others like them, seem to step up every time they're in a film and, when used properly, add a realistic element to their source material. The cinematography is also a textural treat and grounds the characters in a gritty but stylized moral playground.

However, beyond the nuances Owen and Aniston bring to the table, the movie as a whole is far from perfect. Cassel, while having a good time winking at the audience, takes his character too close to the edge and fails to deliver anything more than a villain lacking some much needed complexity. Other elements in the story (the detectives following the case, Owen's extended family, the other people at his business) are sadly left in the background and don't get the attention they deserve. Even more disappointing is an underdeveloped script loaded with incessant plot holes that litter the world of "Derailed". With nothing other than the central storyline to draw our attention, there aren't enough smoke-and-mirror devices to disguise what lies around each corner. You'll see every twist and double-cross coming from a mile away and, even when viewing the film for the first time, you'll feel as if you've watched it all before.

The video package is presented with the AVC MPEG-4 codec and, technically, the film looks very good. When compared side by side with the standard DVD edition, this HD-DVD transfer is light years beyond its older brother. I felt the need to clean my glasses each time I switched to the regular DVD and the murkiness of the picture is apparent throughout. The HD-DVD has great sharpness and an impressive amount of detail. It's not exactly the kind of movie you pop in to impress your friends, but it's worth the upgrade if you're a fan of the film and looking to buy it in high definition. My only problems with the visuals come with the director's stylistic choices. The color palette is washed out, the contrast is unnaturally high, and there's a heavy curtain of grain throughout. I didn't enjoy looking at the film, but I assume this was the filmmaker's point since we're watching a man fall off the beaten path.

The audio was resoundingly unimpressive and I found everything to be too obvious for my taste. Noise, dialogue, and ambience was either too quiet or too loud and there was hardly any range to the soundfield. With an enormous city on screen, my ears should be greeted with well managed clutter… but the city in "Derailed" feels vacant of most frantic swirls of commerce. I may as well have been watching a man wander through a post-apocalyptic wasteland with a city lacking this much passion and life in its soundscape. Again though, like all of my complaints with the film's presentation, it has more to do with the director and his decisions, rather than the disc or the format itself.

The supplemental features on this HD-DVD may as well have been left on the cutting room floor. The documentary is nothing more than a commercial, the deleted scenes didn't add anything to the characters, and the theatrical trailer is only a feature for people who want everything out of their movie purchase. Even worse, this is yet another film billed as an "unrated version" that has nothing to contribute with the slightly extended cut. It's an obvious case of the MPAA forcing the filmmaker to snip a few seconds of a few scenes and his ultimate revenge on home video. I don't mind these moments being restored, but I mind them being used to market a DVD or HD-DVD when there isn't much additional value added to the disc because of their inclusion.

Overall, "Derailed" is a solid rental with fine performances from Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston. There's nothing that you can't find in other, better films, but you will have fun with a taught but predictable thriller.