Because I'm bitter and cynical, I think marriage is a sham. Our Western view of the institution somehow morphed from what was essentially a financial arrangement into a wish-fulfillment fantasy of finding our "other half" and living happily ever after. Romantic movies may always end just as the couple is walking off into the sunset, but they never show you what happens after. Sure, I get all dewey-eyed at the end of 'Casablanca' like everyone else, but do I really believe in this stuff? Not really. What's the point of getting married other than the free gifts?
That is why I probably enjoyed a thriller like 'Derailed' a little too much. This is a film which quite frankly has plot holes large enough to drive a truck through, but I enjoyed it anyway because it is another one of those moralistic little yarns about how cheating spouses who carry on illicit affairs will inevitably destroy the lives of all around them (think 'Fatal Attraction,' 'Unfaithful,' et. al). What fun! I get to enjoy a cat-and-mouse tale with attractive leads like Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, plus my deep-seated bias against storybook romances are reaffirmed.
My own personal baggage aside, 'Derailed' is also a nice bit of counter-casting for Owen and especially Aniston. They play strangers Charles Schine and Lucinda Harris who, after a cutesy meeting on a commuter train right out of a Nora Ephron movie, begin to meet for "innocent" little encounters. Coffee leads to dinner, which leads to a growing intimacy. Despite the fact that each character is in a marriage that on the surface seems fulfilling, however burdensome at times, a deeper passion is missing for the both of them. Finally giving into their passion, they spend a night at cheap motel. Wrong move. Armed thug Philippe LaRoche ('Ocean's 12's Vincent Cassel) breaks into their room, robs them, knocks out Charles and rapes Lucinda. But this is only the beginning of LaRoche's treachery. Discovering each is actually married to someone else, and sensing Charles in particular will be willing to pay to keep the truth silent, he resorts to blackmail. Things go from bad to worse to very, very wrong.
'Derailed' is a movie that, like 'Fatal Attraction,' relies on characters making choices that in the moment make sense but overall are a bit morally fuzzy. It is always possible to understand and empathize how Charles and Lucinda make the individual decisions they do as they make them. But as you learn more about both characters, their decisions stop making so much sense. It is interesting that these type of cheaters-get-their-comeuppance movies always revolve around the same core ethical dilemma. Do you tell the truth of an affair and destroy the lives of those closest to you, or do you continue to maintain a false reality no matter how grave the cost? The irony (and to me, the humor) in these situations is that the fantasy Charles and Lucinda are paying so dearly to maintain is just that -- a fantasy. So no matter what they eventually choose to do, they will always be the guilty party. And the longer they keep up the charade, the worse it gets, and the more unlikable they become. Needless to say, 'Derailed' doesn't let its characters off so easy.
But that's why I had such fun with the movie. Its plot is as moralistic as an episode of "7th Heaven," but it revels being trashy. So do its stars. We just don't expect "America's Sweetheart" Aniston to be all dirtied-up like this, and Lucinda is a refreshing character that is far, far removed from "Rachel" from "Friends." Good for Aniston for jumping right in and not trying to pretty up the character's rougher edges. Owen, too, nicely departs from his usually intense, proactive roles (see 'Closer'). Under the surface, it is really Lucinda who manipulates and controls Charles's reactions, and only a character who is so emotionally and physically feeble could let the situation spiral so fast and so quickly. Indeed, though director Mikael Hafstrom gives the film a gritty visual look and screenwriter Stuart Beattie is fairly adept at manipulating our emotions with well-crafted suspense sequences and realistic dialogue, 'Derailed' is all about the chemistry of its stars. It certainly helps when you have two doofus characters who look like Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston -- who wouldn't want to see them screw each other no matter what the consequences?
'Derailed' joins the other Weinstein/Genius launch titles (including 'Scary Movie 4' and 'Wolf Creek') in getting a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video transfer, this one presented in 2.35:1 widescreen. And once again, I had a horrible time booting up the disc (click here to read about my earlier boot-up issues while trying to watch 'Wolf Creek'). I hope Genius works out the kinks because having to wait about three minutes for an FBI Warning screen is a total drag. And that's with the latest firmware upgrade for my Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player.
At least when the disc does finally fire up, the quality is generally excellent. The standard-def DVD release of 'Derailed' was disappointing, with a soft, harsh transfer that suffered from the artificial edge enhancement. I can only surmise that the same master was used for this HD DVD release, but some poor decisions must have been made in the downconvert to standard-def, because this high-def transfer is much better. The image is smooth and detailed, with fine textures visible even in the shadows. Blacks and contrast are also strong.
Two caveats, though. The first is that film grain is present throughout, and it has a slight noisy look. It is not severe or really distracting, just ever-present. Also, color saturation is subdued, with even the most vivid hues are down a notch or two from what I usually expect on an HD DVD release. This appears to be an intentional choice, because it's consistent throughout the film. Fleshtones are spot-on, so I can't fault any artistic decision on behalf of the filmmakers to stylize the film with a dull color palette.
Like the standard-def DVD release, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround upgrade here can't do much with uneventful sound design. 'Derailed' is pretty front-heavy. Dialogue is the star of the show and rendered with great clarity -- I never missed a word. However, aside from some nice stereo separation to major sound effects and Ed Shermear's operatic score, there is little in the way of rear atmosphere. The surrounds just are not present all that often, save for the sporadic surround effect such as a fast-moving car, gunfire, etc. In terms of raw technical quality, the mix is solid, with tight bass and an even, warm tone to mid- and high-range.
'Derailed' comes to HD DVD in its unrated form, but there is nothing new and steamy here compared to the R-rated version. Just a bit more violence; ditto any new scenes and, no, you don't get to see Jennifer Aniston's boobies. That aside, the rest of the supplements are rather thin as well. I guess the film's pooir box office performance precluded the Weinsteins from really giving the flick the full-on special edition treatment.
The 8-minute "The Making of 'Derailed'" is just another flimsy extended commercial. We get a quick recap of the film's basic premise, are reminded that Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston star in it, and that's about it.
The ten minutes of Deleted Scenes are a bit more "weighty," if only by comparison. Three scenes add a bit more depth to a key relationship in the film, and another better fleshes out a plot point. Nothing we can't really figure out in the existing cut of the film, so like the featurette, these are ultimately skippable. The quality of the scenes is fine, although they are presented in 480p video.
'Derailed' came and went at the box office in a blink of an eye, despite the marquee value of Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen. I thought it was a fun little thriller that likely plays better on video than it did in the theater. This HD DVD is another solid effort from the Weinstein Co. Despite my continued problems booting up their discs, the transfer is quite good and the soundtrack is perfectly fine. If you like thrillers, 'Derailed' is at least worth a rent.