‘ Un­for­get­table’ well- ex­e­cuted thriller

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Ev­ery once in a while, you need a good, juicy, erotic thriller. In the ’ 90s, those were a dime a dozen, but now they’re few and far be­tween ( for­get the dopey “50 Shades” movies). Which makes sa­vor­ing the out­landishly en­ter­tain­ing “Un­for­get­table” worth­while. It’s a fe­male- driven melo­drama — a “women’s pic­ture” as they used to call them in the Hol­ly­wood of the 1940s — that deals frankly with the is­sues of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, trauma and moth­er­hood, all wrapped up in a sala­cious and of­ten de­li­ciously campy pack­age. Vet­eran pro­ducer Denise Di Novi makes “Un­for­get­table” her di­rec­to­rial de­but, work­ing with a script by Christina Hod­son. Di Novi crafts awell- ex­e­cuted thriller that some­how bal­ances th­ese very sober­ing prob­lems with the more over- the- top ele­ments, thanks in large part to her lead ac­tresses. Rosario Daw­son plays the down- to- earth and grounded Ju­lia, the voice of rea­son in the film. She’s a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sur­vivor who moves to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia from San Fran­cisco to be with her new fi­ance, David ( Ge­off Stults). On the other side of the spec­trum is an amaz­ing Kather­ine Heigl, making a tri­umphant come­back as David’s ter­ri­fy­ingly Step­fordesque ex- wife Tessa. Heigl is all power pumps and stick straight hair as the Type- A Tessa, wound so tightly you know some screw is about to come loose — if it hasn’t al­ready. Her arch per­for­mance as this rat­tlesnake of awoman, coiled and ready to spring for at­tack, is rev­e­la­tory. She’s the vil­lain Heigl was al­ways sup­posed to play. Tessa and David have to nav­i­gate shared cus­tody of their daugh­ter, Lily ( Isabella Kai Rice), which puts Tessa front and cen­ter in Ju­lia and David’s dreamy new re­la­tion­ship. All it takes is one hair tan­gle, a glimpse at the happy new blended fam­ily, and a text about a wed­ding dress to send Tessa vi­o­lently spi­ral­ing. She turns into an in­ter­net- stalk­ing, cat­fish­ing bur­glar, dredg­ing up Ju­lia’s messy past to come back and haunt her. “Un­for­get­table” is tawdry, some­times cheesy, and def­i­nitely soapy. There are some in­sane choices made in the pro­duc­tion de­sign, which is ac­tu­ally per­fect for a movie like this. It’d be all too easy to write it off as “guilty- plea­sure” ma­te­rial, a higher- bud­get Life­time movie. But that would den­i­grate fe­male- driven en­ter­tain­ment that deals with the melo­dra­mas of the mind, body and soul from a woman’s per­spec­tive. Though this movie has its out­ra­geous mo­ments, Di Novi puts the fe­male emo­tional jour­ney front and cen­ter and treats things re­spect­fully. But ev­ery erotic thriller needs some crazy, and thank good­ness for Heigl’s full com­mit­ment to her char­ac­ter’s insanity. That campi­ness is needed in a pic­ture like this, al­low­ing the au­di­ence re­lief from the ten­sion while we gig­gle at her en­thu­si­as­tic hair brush­ing or wild- eyed mania. In a fi­nal scene, she’s swathed glo­ri­ously in a mint caf­tan, her hair flow­ing. She calls to mind that other un­for­get­tably con­trol­ling mother, Margaret White, from Brian De Palma’s 1976 film “Car­rie,” played by Piper Lau­rie, who earned an Oscar nom­i­na­tion for that role. Heigl chan­nels Lau­rie’s per­for­mance with her lilt­ing tones and soft sav­agery. It’s a uniquely fem­i­nine kind of vil­lainy that’s trans­fixed us since clas­si­cal Hol­ly­wood, and Di Novi and Heigl un­der­stand it im­plic­itly in or­der to ex­e­cute it per­fectly. “Un­for­get­table,” a Warner Bros. Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for sex­ual con­tent, vi­o­lence, some lan­guage, and brief par­tial nu­dity. Run­ning time: 100 min­utes.  ½


This week some strong, wryly un­con­ven­tional work opens on a lim­ited num­ber of screens around the coun­try, which means adults not par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in “The Fate of the Fu­ri­ous” can re- en­ter a movie the­ater with con­fi­dence. Topic A: “Nor­man,” a mor­dantly funny study in am­bi­tion, des­per­a­tion, ma­nip­u­la­tion and luck from the writer- di­rec­tor Joseph Cedar. Born in New York, work­ing pri­mar­ily in Is­rael, Cedar makes his English- lan­guage fea­ture de­but here. In the juicy role of Nor­man Op­pen­heimer, the glad­hand­ing, end­lessly rein­vent­ing con­sul­tant of the ti­tle, Richard Gere puts his am­bigu­ous charm to work in un­pre­dictable and con­sis­tently ef­fec­tive ways. “I’ll have to get the two of you to­gether,” Nor­man says on more than one oc­ca­sion in “Nor­man,” and this is what Cedar’s pro­tag­o­nist lives for: making in­tro­duc­tions, es­tab­lish­ing con­nec­tions, any­thing to gain ground in the hec­tic 100- yard dash of his life. Work­ing pri­mar­ily out of var­i­ous Star­bucks and Sta­ples stores in Man­hat­tan, Nor­man is an ad­viser in the realm of “tax re­ceiv­ables.” He looks like a man to be trusted with your money; in his camel hair over­coat and stylish scarf, Gere’s charac- ter is bor­der­line smooth, though Nor­man’s fi­nan­cial straits tend to bring out an in­sis­tent, nudgy qual­ity in ev­ery new so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, in what­ever party he’s talked his way into. Cedar calls his movie “the mod­er­ate rise and tragic fall of a New York fixer.” The domi­noes of the screen­play’s nar­ra­tive be­gin fall­ing when Nor­man en­gi­neers an faux­im­promptu meet­ing with the deputy Is­raeli min­is­ter of trade and la­bor ( played by Lior Ashke­nazi, who was won­der­ful in Cedar’s “Foot­note”). Nor­man buys the man a pair of ab­surdly ex­pen­sive shoes as a wel­come- to- New- York present. As fate dic­tates, the ges­ture does not go un­re­mem­bered when, seven years later, this same mid- level Is­raeli politi­cian has as­cended to the post of prime min­is­ter. From there “Nor­man” be­comes a story of con­flicted loy­al­ties and fa­vors lever­aged and re­turned. Nor­man gains con­sid­er­able ac­cess to power he craves, and if he’s not quite “in the room where it hap­pens,” as the line from “Hamil­ton” goes, at least metaphor­i­cally he’s in the room down the hall and to the right. Cedar’s plot plays a clever if oc­ca­sion­ally daunt­ing game of con­nect the dots. The var­i­ous strands of Nor­man’s life don’t seem to tie to­gether, but they do; a grand, faded syn­a­gogue in need of a $ 14 mil­lion makeover ( Steve Buscemi plays Nor­man’s rabbi; Nor­man is seen at one point making a din­ner out of pick­led her­ring and Ritz crack­ers in the syn­a­gogue rec room) be­comes en­twined with Nor­man’s eth­i­cally con­tro­ver­sial busi­ness deal­ings. Filmed in New York and Jerusalem, “Nor­man” fea­tures Char­lotte Gains­bourg as a le­gal ex­pert with a gath­er­ing in­ter­est in Nor­man’s deal­ings; Michael Sheen plays Nor­man’s nephew, who knows his uncle all too well, but knows also he can ben­e­fit from his con­sult­ing work. Cedar’s 2011 marvel “Foot­note” took place in a her­met­i­cally sealed aca­demic en­vi­ron­ment pop­u­lated by highly com­pet­i­tive Tal­mu­dic schol­ars. Be­fore that, Cedar’s tense, claus­tro­pho­bic “Beau­fort” cap­tured a very dif­fer­ent pres­sure- cooker sit­u­a­tion among Is­raeli De­fense Forces sol­diers sta­tioned in Le­banon in 2000. Cedar’s not much for con­ven­tional, au­di­ence- friendly no­bil­ity in his char­ac­ters; he’s more in­ter­ested, and com­pelled by, the forces that drive men for­ward ( and, to a lesser, marginal­ized de­gree, women) into bat­tle. Nor­man is a war­rior, and a weasel, and a loser, and a win­ner. Some view­ers, many of them Jews, have ex­pressed anger at what they per­ceive as Cedar’s brand of car­i­ca­ture. I don’t see it that way; he’s a hu­man- scaled, gen­uinely search­ing satirist, and if “Nor­man” isn’t quite up to the level of “Foot­note,” it’s still a vi­tal and wily se­ri­o­comic odyssey. And Gere has never been bet­ter, more alive, on screen. “Nor­man,” a Sony Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for some lan­guage. Run­ning time: 118 min­utes. ½


Richard Gere, left, stars as Nor­man Op­pen­heimer and Lior Ashke­nazi as Micha Eshel in “Nor­man: The Mod­er­ate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.”

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