Monday, May 9, 2016

The Unsaid

3/4

Starring: Andy Garcia, Vincent Kartheiser, Linda Cardellini, Teri Polo, Trevor Blumas, Chelsea Field

Rated R for Violence, Nudity/Sexual Content, Language and Some Drug Material

"The Unsaid" defies easy description.  It somehow manages to navigate the line between thriller and psychological drama in a way that continuously surprised me.  The ambiguity of the film's most elusive character is a strong selling point, but not the only by any means.

Brilliant psychologist Michael Hunter (Garcia) has it all: a nice home, a loving wife (Field) and two children that he adores named Shelly (Cardellini) and Kyle (Blumas).  Kyle is battling depression, and on the night where his parents are away watching Shelly perform on stage, he takes his own life.

Now a virtual shut-in, Michael has all but given up on life.  His wife divorced him and Shelly moved in with her.  One of his former students, Barbara Lonigan (Polo), asks him to take a look at a curious case she's involved in at the local juvenile mental hospital where she works.  Tommy Caffey (Kartheiser) is every teacher's dream: he's handsome, polite, and articulate.  Not the kind of person you'd assume would live in a nuthouse.  He's been there ever since his father murdered his mother, and he has yet to show that he has been affected by it in any way.  Barbara is worried that he's a ticking time bomb and wants Michael to talk with him.

What's interesting about this film is that it doesn't go for easily defined relationships.  It takes time to develop the characters and what drives them.  More importantly, it allows these interactions to drive the plot.  For example, Michael's guilt over his son's death is affecting his relationship with his patient in ways that tell us that Michael is not at a place where he can help Tommy.  Tommy is biding his time for the promise of freedom, but is he the squeaky clean golden boy that he seems, or is there something else at work?  Further complicating matters is the fact that Shelly meets Tommy.  And falls for him.

It's all very complex, but director Tom McLaughlin does a good job of laying the groundwork and making sure that we are neither ahead nor behind the plot.  Simply watching everything unfold is fascinating.

The performances are effective.  Andy Garcia doesn't have great range, but he's quite good here.  As the doctor who isn't as stable as he thinks he is, Garcia does some of his best work.  Guilt and ego have clouded his judgement, but he has good intentions.  Vincent Kartheiser is excellent as Tommy.  The future "Mad Men" star doesn't allow us to get a good handle on the character until late in the film.  Tommy is at times sympathetic and at times creepy.  Kartheiser's subtle changes in personality keep the ambiguity that makes the movie so compelling.  Linda Cardellini is adequate as Shelly, but to be quite frank this isn't her best work.  Still, she's good enough for the film's purposes.  Teri Polo is a scene-stealer as the warm and loving Barbara.  She loves Michael and Tommy, and her mere presence supplies some much needed relief from the tension that develops.

Visually, this isn't a good looking film.  In a movie like this, such concerns are almost moot, but I couldn't help thinking that a movie with a $22 million budget could look better than your average late night cable movie.  That said, it's a small price to pay for a movie that's this intriguing.

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