J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Michael Apted’s Unlocked

During the Cold War, there were a number of traitors who did indeed betray America and the UK for ideological or pecuniary reasons. In the current War on Terror era, the prospect of living large as a hero of the Caliphate has thus far been far less tempting. Yet, cynical thrillers need turncoats, so now we have the highly placed official who is so disgusted with Western softness, he or she secretly pulls strings to help the Islamists detonate a nuke in the Earth’s core that will send the remaining fragments of our planet hurtling into the sun, all for the sake of waking us up to the dangers of terrorism. This is one of those. It is a shame Peter O’Brien’s CIA-disparaging screenplay bends over backwards to equate Western intelligence services with Islamist terrorism, because it wastes some jolly nice supporting performances in Michael Apted’s Unlocked (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

Alice Racine is a highly trained CIA interrogator, but she has been slumming in a low-level cover position after she “unlocked” her last subject slightly too late to prevent a terrorist attack in Paris. However, when a courier is intercepted ferrying a verbal message to a major U.S.-born terrorist from his London-based spiritual advisor, she reluctantly swings back into action. However, halfway through the unlocking process, she gets a call from her Langley handler, telling her to sit tight, because they have this courier they need her to unlock.

Obviously, there is a high-placed traitor in the agency, but with eye-rolling predictability, Racine is assumed to be in league with the shadowy squad that intercepted the now deceased courier. Racine goes on the run to ferret out the traitor with the wink-wink encouragement of her MI5 colleague Emily Knowles and back-up provided by Jack Alcott, an ex-military cat burglar, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or should that be the right time?).

Aside from the moral equivalency, O’Brien’s screenplay is also ridiculously predictable. If someone looks like they have a treasonous haircut, you can bet they will be doing some third act back-stabbing. However, there are two reasons to possibly consider soldiering through Unlocked, should all your other entertainment options fail: John Malkovich and Toni Collette. Malkovich is laugh-out-loud hilarious as the wickedly snide CIA operations director Bob Hunter. We can only hope there is someone with that kind of take-no-prisoners attitude protecting our country. However, Collette totally hangs with him as the incisive and sophisticated Knowles. When they spar, the film becomes a thing of beauty. In contrast, Noomi Rapace basically punches the clock as Racine, while Orlando Bloom telegraphs his character’s secrets from a mile away.


Still, Apted keeps it all chugging along smoothly enough. As a director, he is hard to classify, landing somewhere on the spectrum between journeyman and auteur. Besides the Up series of documentaries, Apted has helmed a Narnia film, episodes of Showtime’s Masters of Sex, a Bond movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Sting’s “I Burn for You” video, so it is safe to say nearly everyone has seen his work. Unfortunately, Unlocked is no Gorky Park, but it is not really Apted’s fault—and Malkovich and Collette certainly are not to blame. The fundamental premise is simply too unlikely and too stilted. Not recommended, Unlocked is now available on DVD.

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