Facing a life filled with draining family and work commitments, Charles (Clive Owen) is starting to wear out. On a commuter train, Charles meets Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston), an attractive businesswoman who takes an immediately liking to him. The attraction is intense, with Charles considering infidelity to release his frustrations. Electing for a seedy motel, the two rent a room for their tryst, and as the evening progresses, a petty criminal (Vincent Cassel, “Ocean’s Twelve”) bursts in, beating Charles to a pulp and raping Lucinda. Consumed with guilt, Charles is confronted with even more hell when the thug begins to terrorize him, demanding large sums of money or he’ll reveal Charles’s moment of indiscretion to all.
“Derailed” is a modest thriller experience from a bygone era of cinema, spiced up to fit in with today’s “every moment is a con” aesthetic. When it sits there and plays straight, the picture clicks, and benefits from simplicity; yet, the studio (the debut film for The Weinstein Company) couldn’t leave well enough alone, making the title a little too appropriate for the film.
If there’s anything that director Mikael Hafstrom gets absolutely right it’s the claustrophobia in Charles’s life. Dealing with a sick child, a preoccupied wife (Melissa George, “The Amityville Horror”), and a job he’s too smart for, Charles isn’t looking for trouble, but when Lucinda enters his life, the desire for attraction and connection is sold with crystal clarity. Through Owen’s durable performance, the audience feels Charles inching toward that critical decision of unfaithfulness, slowly but surely. Charles pursues Lucinda in highly cinematic ways, but the actors’ chemistry quickly takes over, making that big leap with palpable connection and crucial sexual urgency.
Eventually, “Derailed” swerves over into thriller mode. With Dan’s mistake slowly haunting his every move, Hafstrom keeps the story (based on a novel) briskly moving, covering the plot holes and coincidental whoppers well with sharp direction and good performances. Vincent Cassel makes for an exceptionally wonderful villain; sliming his way around the frame, creating a memorable representation of a threat, Cassell is fun, even when he gets a bit too operatic with the role. With the heat on Charles and Lucinda, “Derailed” heads to many familiar places, but is reliably engaging.
The troubles of “Derailed” only sink in during the film’s final act, when the tale begins to twist in ways that are unnecessary and deal a critical blow to the swift pace. Hafstrom likes to weave in complications for Charles throughout the film with various murders and lies, but the payoff is a little too bombastic for what’s preceded it. “Derailed” eventually becomes a film that never ends, trotting out about three different conclusions, each with the hope of riling up the audience into applause. Instead, the multiple endings just drag the film out way past its expiration, and damage the experience. “Derailed” is swift entertainment, but its greediness poisons the punch.Rating: C+