Dir: Mikael Hafstrom. US. 2005. 108mins.

Representing a fairly low profile debut for a highprofile operation, The Weinstein Company's Derailedis a sharp, nicely cast neo-noir thriller that loses some of its edge over thecourse of its twisting and turning plot.

Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom - whose Evil (Ondskan)was a best foreign language film Oscar nominee last year - acquits himself wellon his first English-language project, giving the film an adult, almostEuropean feel.

Stars Clive Owen andJennifer Aniston, though, will provide most of the commercial pulling power,suggesting a solid but probably not spectacular box-office take for the firstrelease under Bob and Harvey Weinstein's new corporate banner.

The Weinstein Co opens thefilm wide in North America (with an R rating) this coming weekend. Competitionfor the adult and urban audiences likely to be attracted to Derailed will be quite stiff, sothe film's theatrical run may not be too long. Its video performance, however,should compensate for any theatrical shortcoming.

Under a deal between the Weinsteins and their old, Disney-owned Miramax operation,Buena Vista International will release the film outside the US, mostly in theNew Year. The continental feel and internationally flavoured cast - in whichBritain's Owen is joined by French star Vincent Cassel- could push Derailed to a biggerinternational than domestic take.

Chicago advertising executiveCharles Schine (Owen) is at the centre of the script,written by Stuart Beattie (Collateral)and based on James Siegel's best-selling 2003 novel of the same title.

With a sick teenage daughterto care for, Charles and wife Deanna (Australian-born George, last seen in The Amityville Horror remake) are onlyjust getting by, financially and romantically.

On the train to work onemorning, Charles meets the alluring and slightly mysterious Lucinda (Aniston).Lunch dates and then a boozy evening in the city eventually lead Charles andLucinda to a hotel room, but before they can act on their infatuation they areinterrupted by brutal criminal LaRoche (Cassel, whose last US film was Ocean's 12), who beats Charles and rapes Lucinda.

The assault sets up the firstof the moral dilemmas that will drag Charles away from his domestic problemsinto a much more dangerous and violent world.

Early on, Hafstrom's under-stated direction, Beattie's pointeddialogue and a refreshingly subtle narrative style give the film an enticingatmosphere that's sexy as well as sinister. The mood is enhanced by well-chosenlocations and well-designed sets (the film was shot in the UK's Elstree Studios, as well as on location in London andChicago) and by the very sparing use of music.

After the hotel room assault- whose brutal action prematurely ends the film's only sex scene - thingsbecome more plot-driven. Successive plot twists changethe relationships between Charles, LaRoche andLucinda and bring in new characters, including an ex-con colleague of Charles'(played by rapper RZA) and a suspicious detective (played by Spike Lee regularGiancarlo Esposito).

The twists aren'tpredictable, but neither are they particularly credible. And as they come todominate the story, the film begins to lose its edge, seeming more familiar andcontrived. The characters, too, seem to blur into stereotypes, like thecharming/menacing usurper and the two-timing femme fatale.

Thankfully, though, thestrong and eclectic cast keeps things interesting to the end. Owen makes itimpossible to pin down Charles as either a victim or a brute. And Aniston makesLucinda both seductive and convincingly conflicted.

Cassel's LaRoche is a suitablynasty villain (in spite of his wavering accent), and RZA, who as well asscoring a number of films has appeared in ScaryMovie 3 and Coffee & Cigarettes,is impressive in his small but significant role.

Production companies
Weinstein Company
Miramax Films
Di Bonaventura Pictures

US distribution
Weinstein Company

International distribution
Buena Vista International

Executive producers
Harvey Weinstein
Bob Weinstein
Jonathan Gordon

Lorenzo di Bonaventura

Stuart Beattie, from the novel by James Siegel

Peter Biziou

Peter Boyle

Production design
Andrew Laws

Edward Shearmur

Main cast
Clive Owen
Jennifer Aniston
Melissa George
Vincent Cassel