Who can you trust? That concept is central in the new spy thriller from Michael Apted, Unlocked. The story focuses on Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace), who we first see working as a social worker in London. But she used to be one of the CIA’s top interrogators. Her job was to “unlock” the information in people we had captured. A few years ago she failed to break an informant in time to stop a deadly bombing in Paris. Since that time she has been working as an imbed at a social agency, gathering low level info to pass on to MI5.
When the CIA captures someone involved with a plot involving biological weapons, Alice is called back in, even though she no longer trusts herself with such an assignment. But just as she begins to discover the needed intel, she suspects she shouldn’t trust those who have brought her in. But where can she go? Should she go to her mentor Eric Lasch (Michael Douglas), CIA section chief Bob Hunter (John Malkovich), her MI5 contact Emily Knowles (Toni Collette), or Jack Alcott (Orlando Bloom), a military vet who has his own reasons for following terror suspects? The plot twists as Alice seeks to find the truth and stop the attack even while being betrayed by many of those she thought she could rely on.
Such betrayals are nearly always involved in spy thrillers such as this. It shows a world in which there are both external threats and also more hidden diabolical menaces who multiply the dangers. One of the dangers that films like this can have is to use stereotypes and reinforce our fears that are built on them. Is that the case with this film? This film certainly relies on the idea of radicalized Islam as a key feature of the plot. But there are also other factors involved.
As to the portrayal of Islam in the film, there are indeed terrorists who act out of their understanding of Islam, including a white American who is very involved. But there is a key scene when Alice confronts an imam who is central to the plan. We learn that he has been working to stop the attack, not push it forward. He is seeking to use his religious authority to bring peace, not to do harm. It is the hidden forces within the American government that see the plot as a way to further their own agenda who are the true villains in the story.
This brings us back to issues of trust. Alice begins the film unable even to trust herself. And she learns many of those she thought she could trust are unworthy of that trust, but others (including some she only now meets) earn her trust. When we enter into the world of espionage in films, we often assume we know who can be trusted, yet along the way, we begin to see things and people differently. The way Apted and screenwriter Peter O’Brien lead us through this story gives us a chance to have our fears and prejudices challenged. By the time we come out on the other side, we will have discovered that often both our trust and our fears are misplaced.
Photos courtesy of Lionsgate Premiere