Fear­ful Foy phones in win­ner

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

SAWYER Valen­tini has Anne Bo­leyn’s mean streak and Queen El­iz­a­beth’s steely re­solve.

But as played by Claire Foy, the English ac­tor who has nailed all three char­ac­ters, Un­sane’s haunted pro­tag­o­nist also has a scrappy, con­tem­po­rary edge that thor­oughly dis­tin­guishes her from her royal pre­de­ces­sors.

For a good por­tion of this com­pelling psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, shot by di­rec­tor/ cine­matog­ra­pher Steven Soder­bergh on an iPhone, we’re in two minds about Valen­tini’s mental sta­bil­ity (a conflict that ap­pro­pri­ately echoes her own).

Foy is mis­tress of the sub­sumed emo­tion; au­di­ences are keenly aware of just how much there is go­ing on be­neath that porce­lain­skinned ex­te­rior.

Fear is the pri­mary reg­is­ter she is op­er­at­ing in here.

Most of the time, the au­di­ence is afraid for Valen­tini. On oc­ca­sion, how­ever, we are afraid of her.

Valen­tini isn’t ex­actly a con­ven­tional lead­ing lady.

Her fight or flight in­stinct, for ex­am­ple, is ex­cep­tion­ally well honed.

Sly, ma­nip­u­la­tive, vi­o­lent, she lashes out when backed into a cor­ner.

Of course, this can partly be ex­plained by the fact that Valen­tini has been trapped in a mental in­sti­tu­tion against her will.

Most of us would lose our rag in such cir­cum­stances. Not so many would stab a nurse or throw a pot of hot cof­fee over one of the other in­mates.

As the story un­folds, we learn that Valen­tini wasn’t al­ways like this. Life, as she knows it, has been turned in­side out by a stalker.

Long-time Soder­bergh col­lab­o­ra­tor Matt Da­mon makes a cameo ap­pear­ance as a se­cu­rity spe­cial­ist

Hav­ing re­lo­cated half way across the coun­try to es­cape her ob­sessed ad­mirer’s at­ten­tion, Valen­tini still sees him wher­ever she goes.

In des­per­a­tion, she sees a psy­chi­a­trist. But Valen­tini has picked the wrong med­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion. After ad­mit­ting that she has con­tem­plated sui­cide, Valen­tini is in­car­cer­ated for her “own safety and that of oth­ers” in an or­gan­ised abuse of the sys­tem that fleeces health in­sur­ers.

From Ju­lia Roberts’ Os­car­win­ning Erin Brock­ovich to for­mer porn star Sasha Grey’s The Girl­friend Ex­pe­ri­ence, Soder­bergh has cre­ated some strong — at times provoca­tive — roles for women.

Valen­tini is cer­tainly a char­ac­ter Foy can sink her teeth into.

And the film’s par­al­lel sub­plot in­volv­ing the med­i­cal over-di­ag­no­sis of mental ill­ness is also in­trigu­ing (faintly echo­ing Ken Loach’s sem­i­nal 1966 drama Cathy Come Home).

But when Soder­bergh even­tu­ally com­mits to more fa­mil­iar genre ter­ri­tory — for the sake of a res­o­lu­tion — the film be­comes more pre­dictable. To say more, would be to re­veal too many spoil­ers.

As a char­ac­ter study, Un­sane is riv­et­ing. This is Foy’s film. Her per­for­mance is worth the price of ad­mis­sion alone.

Sawyer Valen­tini (Claire Foy) is trapped in a mental in­sti­tu­tion against her will.

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