An imprudent liaison with a fetching stranger (Jennifer Aniston) lands Charles Schine (Clive Owen) in a game of violent blackmail in Mikael Håfström’s Derailed, a faux-noir with Fatal Attraction shadings that remains doggedly faithful to Hollywood’s preference for narrative orderliness and optimism. With a diabetes-afflicted daughter (Addison Timlin) who needs a costly miracle drug, a distant wife (Melissa George) whom he no longer kisses goodbye in the morning, and the sudden loss of a big account at work, “nice guy” Charles finds the lure of adultery too strong after fortuitously meeting Lucinda (Anniston) on the commuter train to work. After a few innocuous rendezvous, the furtive two-timers abscond to a seedy motel for some rain-soaked hanky-panky, only to be interrupted by a ragamuffin Frenchman named Laroche (an utterly hammy Vincent Cassel) who robs the couple, beats Charles unconscious, and then rapes Lucinda. When Laroche continues to hound Charles with demands for cash, Charles finds himself in a bind between revealing his adulterous secret to his wife or paying Laroche with the financial nest egg reserved for Amy’s life-saving treatment, a dilemma which inevitably leads the desperate man to take matters into his own hands.
Though it shares A History of Violence‘s interest in identity duplicity and the ferociousness lurking underneath suburbanites’ flawless facades, Håfström’s suspense film substitutes Cronenberg’s dissection of humanity’s capacity for hostility with a more mundane portrait of a guy who, pushed to the edge, chooses to push back. Reasonably taut, Derailed nonetheless has its suspenseful locomotive force disrupted by the clumsy plotting of Stuart Beattie’s script (based on James Siegel’s novel), which employs the age-old thriller/mystery device of trying to throw its audience off track by keeping a primary character hidden for significant chunks of time, a tactic which merely confirms said person’s obvious culpability. Still, notwithstanding its telegraphing of the climactic twist, the film remains reasonably sharp thanks in large part to Owen, who overcomes being mismatched with an out-of-place Aniston (in a vacant, blandly flirtatious turn) to deliver a performance of rugged, fierce magnetism. Suave yet somewhat sinister, charming yet slightly cold, Owen casts Charles as a man for whom succumbing to the dark side isn’t such an unpleasant thing at all, a fact hinted at during an early family breakfast scene in which, when prodded by his daughter about his lack of spousal affection, Charles brusquely tells the girl to “shut up.”