An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

                “Derailed” – I wish.  Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is understandably tested by his home life. His wife Deanna (Melissa George), works full time as a teacher, his daughter Amy (Addison Timlin) has a serious case of Type I diabetes that requires periodic rescue.  Life’s mechanical demands have flattened the fizz in the marriage.  The stage is set for something to lighten poor Charles’ load (forget Deanna’s duties to husband, daughter, household, and her job). 

                Charles goes from this to the commuter train to an office full of ambitious, self-protective colleagues in an ad agency – nothing much to redeem life there.  That leaves just the train.  On this particular morning, Charles forgot to stop by the ATM machine, and Lucinda Harris, a lovely fellow passenger, picks up his fare in a burst of friendly civility.  Within moments, Charles is smitten.

                “Aha,” we think.  Distraction will come in the form of “Brief Encounter.”  Indeed the newly coupled head for the nearest hotel bed accompanied by the weighty guilt of the nice suburban husband.  In the early throes of their mutual indulgence, Cassel (Vincent La Roche) bursts through the door bearing tools of ill will and murder.

                From here forward, the music prepares us for a series of bloody encounters remind us of the sweaty anticipation of “Fatal Attraction.”  So many and so graphic are these scenes that the audience begins to laugh out loud  - a very bad sign for a thriller whose mission is to glue us all to the edges of our seats.  This kind of violence is personal cruelty, the power of one over another.  It is ugly.  What happened to the theory that audiences became sick unto death of the graphics of violence sometime late in the last century?

                Clive Owen, who mesmerized all who saw him in “Closer,” is an actor with an enormously wide emotional range, though we may wish he hadn’t been asked to range as far as he is here.  He creates the frustrated suburban husband with fine detail and becomes the vengeful good guy with flourishes of loyalty and sensitivity when he is trapped.  Owen owns the picture. 

                Jennifer Anniston, lovely to look at, is trying desperately to plumb a dimension she doesn’t possess.  This is not a woman like Glenn Close or Meryl Streep who can turn herself into a bad flower and make you believe her.  Once the credibility of her character is lost, the film has no option other than to sink into its own violence.  There, sinking, it becomes reluctant comedy.  

 Director Mikael Hafstrom had a fine premise to work with – the leaf covered streets of autumn in suburbia, the demanding details of life, illness, work, and stress.  Can distraction bring a little lightness without overturning the cart?  Or shall we inject one of the worst villains I’ve seen in recent years, give him the weapons and the determination to turn the premise into a bloodbath and turn the audience’s evening to disgust? 


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