ARTS

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November 18, 2005

Derailed stays on course with help from Owen, Aniston

The movie-going public faces a dilemma upon the release of any film that is based on a novel: to read the book first or not? In the case of Derailed, based on the novel by James Siegel—and perhaps in the case of any film that claims to be a thriller—it would be wise not to read the book first. This film, the Weinsteins’ first post-Miramax release, is entertaining and fast paced, if slightly uneven, and it is a ride that you may be more willing to go along with if you do not know where it is going.

We take this journey through the eyes of Charles Schine (Clive Owen), a Wilmette-based ad executive with a teenage daughter suffering from Type 1 diabetes and a marriage in which both he and his wife Deanna (Melissa George) are merely going through the motions. One fateful morning, he misses his usual Metra commute into Chicago, and it is not until he boards the next train that he realizes that he does not have $9 for his ticket.

Enter Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), a beautiful brunette across the aisle who offers to pay for him. They get to talking, and Charles seeks Lucinda out on another morning commute. He soon finds out that Lucinda lives in Lake Forest and is in a loveless marriage of her own. Polite conversation leads to flirtation over drinks, which leads to a seedy hotel downtown. It is in the beginning stages of this hotel tryst that things begin to go horribly, terribly wrong for the pair, as they find themselves at the hands of villain Laroche (Vincent Cassell) and a chain of plot twists follows.

The film’s pace is satisfactory, and the story’s many turns keep the viewer engaged, even with the odd jump in plausibility. Charles is a character whom you really want to pull for, but every so often his actions push the boundaries of the “smart people do dumb things” adage. Furthermore, a Chicago audience will find certain public transportation inconsistencies to be jarring. For example, the Red Line is a CTA train rather than a Metra train (as everyone reading this knows), and the Union Pacific North Line—which does travel to Chicago through Lake Forest and Wilmette—does not cost $9 from any point, and it would arrive at Ogilvie Transportation Center, not Union Station. But I digress.

The film’s performances make it worth watching, however. It has been said that the dashing Owen is ill-suited to the role of perpetual victim Charles, but the character is less a wimp, necessarily, than he is an innocent who is clueless regarding the other side of the law. Owen’s brooding sensibility lends itself nicely to the many moral and tactical dilemmas that Charles faces.

Aniston plays radically against type, deviating from her quite familiar look and mannerisms as Lucinda. She does plenty with her rather limited screen time, lending the character a pathos that makes Justine Last (her adulteress character in 2002’s The Good Girl) look downright uncomplicated—and resisting the one-note femme fatale direction that the character of Lucinda might have taken in other hands. Cassell has a grand old time as Laroche; this is not his first time as a slimy villain, nor will it be his last. He walks a very thin line between menacing and simply showy, and falls on a different side in each scene.

Derailed does not profess to do anything earth-shattering; indeed, stylistically it owes much to thrillers from the ’70s, and the story itself is very much by the book, so to speak, save for a few minor plot points. However, it is an engaging film, elevated by many solid performances, and it is good entertainment for a weekend evening when you feel like dialing down the volume on your brain for a couple of hours.