Film Review: UNSANE (USA 2018) ***1/2

A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?

Director Steven Soderbergh alternates between making big budget Hollywood blockbusters like OCEAN’S ELEVEN, ERIN BROCKOVICH and small budget personal movies.  UNSANE falls into the latter and shows the director in playful mood.  His playful mood translates to genuine scares and twisted humour in UNSANE, the story of a businesswoman institutionalized against her free will.

UNSANE contains touches of Soderbergh’s past films like a female heroine discovering a conspiracy (ERIN BROCKOVICH) and even has a welcome appearance of a cameo from a famous actor from one of his blockbuster films, even if not for more than a minute.  The film is updated to a scene similar to what the heroine would face if placed in a Harvey Weinstein like situation.

The heroine of the piece is Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a young, pretty and bright but troubled businesswoman.  She begins to find out that her past is catching up to her when she encounters a stalker. To ensure her safety, Sawyer signs up for a support group that helps people tackle stalking problems.  She also moves to a different city leaving her mother and friends behind, leading an excluded life that would likely bring her paranoia.  She gets help from a stalking support group.  Unfortunately, Sawyer finds out that she has involuntarily placed herself in a mental institution with strict rules that there should be no contact with the outside world.  The message here is to be careful what you sign.  Never sign what you have not read!  Now, Sawyer is alone and trapped against her will.

According to the film’s ad, Sawyer must fight her own demons within the twisted asylum as the visions of her stalker begin to take over.

There are are two main questions posed in the film’s premise:

what the reason is for her to be institutionalized against her own free will

whether she is imagining the stalker now or is it the real thing

To avoid any spoilers, the answers will not be revealed in this review, safe to say that they are revealed to the audience quite early in the film.  Nevertheless, director Soderbergh devises other means to scare his audience.  And quite effectively too.  One is the placement of another scary, mental patient in the bed next to Sawyer.  Olivia (JunoTemple) is not all there and carries a sharp object which she threatens Sawyer with.  Her mother (Amy Irving) inadvertently lets Sawyer’s stalker into her apartment as he poses to be the maintenance man.  (Message: Never let strangers with no identification into you home.”  The element of audience anticipation is cleverly evoked.

The film has a few flaws.  The monologue that Sawyer delivers to her tormentor that results in his breaking down garnered a few laughs in what was supposed to be a dead serious segment.  UNSANE contains a few ultra-violent scenes reminiscent of another kidnapping film, Stephen King’s MISERY.

Coming out of the film, I heard a member of the public complain that she had watched a dissatisfying movie.  There is nothing dissatisfying about this movie.  Great premise, apt performances and scary atmosphere – no complaints in these departments!  UNSANE is a genuinely scary, well executed movie that brigs closure to all the issues tendered.  What she saw was a less commercialized movie she and many are not used to.



Film Review: LOGAN LUCKY (USA 2017) ***

logan luckyTwo brothers attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina.

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Rebecca Blunt
Stars: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Veteran director Steven Soderbergh, most famous for his OCEANS ELEVEN trilogy and for his Oscar winning ERIN BROCKOVICH and critically acclaimed films like KAFKA and THE LIMEY was supposed to have retired after his last film UNDER THE CANDELABRA . But after reading the script for LOGAN LUCKY, he was supposedly so enamoured that he decided to direct it. LOGAN LUCKY is a stylish crime caper, a sort of anti-OCEAN’s ELEVEN film without the glamour. Everything is seedy on LOGAN LUCKY, the props, the heist and life depicted in the film.

Soderbergh said of LUCKY LOGAN: “Nobody dresses nice. Nobody has nice stuff. They have no money. They have no technology. It’s all rubber band technology”.
The film involves two brothers. Trying to reverse a family curse (as lame as excuses come), siblings Jimmy (Channing Tatum), Mellie (Riley Keough), and Clyde Logan (Adam Driver) set out to execute an elaborate robbery during the Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina during Memorial Day weekend. Simple though the plot might seem, the story is complicated by all the baggage brought on by the characters.

These are a few examples: (proving Soderbergh’s liking for the script)
Jimmy is separated and has a daughter that is entering a talent contest, which he should support. She performs John Denver’s famous song “Country Road”, in one of the film’s best scenes.

Clyde has lost his hand during the Iraq war. He still serves a mean martini as a bartender using only one arm, and his hand is sucked into the vacuum during the heist.

Special Agent Sarah Grayson (Hilary Swank) has a no-nonsense role as an investigator who hates tight alibis and coincidences

Warden Burns (Dwight Yoakam) as a 9-year old veteran who believes his prison to be the best and escapee proof.

Because of all these distractions, the film runs almost two hours. Though the story actually gets a bit convoluted and also a bit complicated at times, no one really cares, as Soderbergh always surprises with his style and dead-pan humour, reminiscent of KAFKA, my favourite film of his.

The heist segment is executed with a combination of more wry humour than suspense. The home made bomb form the film’s funniest part. Note that there are no exciting car races in this car race heist film.

The cast is impressive with well-known actors including James Bond 007’s Daniel Craig playing against time as a sprung convict, Joe Bang as well as 6 NASCAR drivers playing minor roles. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch play West Virginia state troopers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are security guards, Kyle Larson is a limo driver, and Ryan Blaney is a delivery boy. Everyone in the cast and crd appear to he having fun and the fun shows.

Not the best of the Soderbergh’s films, but LOGAN LUKCY is still an entertaining watch from a director who knows how to entertain, especially with a good caper comedy.


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