Largely forgotten, Unlawful Entry is a masterpiece driven by stunning performances and an excellent script. We will be following a relatively wealthy couple living the suburban dream life that’s about to be shattered by an unwelcome intruder. The setting itself is not that important here as this is a character-driven psychological thriller. During the eighties, we first started seeing the real examination of suburban life. It’s probably best exemplified by David Lynch’s 1986 classic Blue Velvet. The early nineties saw the reversal of that trend, focusing on the issue of suburban nightmares.
The best example is The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, a movie about a nanny from hell. Moving on, I have to tell you that I felt uncomfortable watching this movie. And that’s a feeling I didn’t have for a long time. This means that the experience was necessary. And just to be clear, after a while, it will go away. The characters of our married couple were placeholders for the audience, to put themselves into their shoes. To think about what would they do in that situation. And while Kurt Russell’s and Madeleine Stowe’s performances were good, Ray Liotta’s was out of this world.
In my opinion, this is his best performance and you know I love the man. He was simply born to play these cop roles. On the face of it, Unlawful Entry is a movie telling a familiar story. However, as things start to escalate, it organically explores a lot of interesting topics. From marital troubles over loneliness, and police brutality, to the question of power. Power, unlimited power. And masculinity, what it means to be a man, and how you should act in certain situations. On top of all of that, we have this character study diving deep into the psyches of our three lead characters.
Michael and Karen Carr live a leisurely life in their big house in LA. She’s a private school teacher while he’s an architect in the middle of a big project. One night Karen hears something downstairs and asks her husband to check it out. He takes a golf club and slowly comes down the stairs. After checking all of the doors and windows, it appears that this was a false alarm. However, at this moment, something happens that’s going to change both of their lives forever.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot to avoid any possible spoilers. So, let’s just say things will slowly go from bad to worse. Of course, the most fascinating character in the movie is the troubled cop Pete Davis, masterfully played by Ray Liotta. Unlawful Entry not only shows us the great burden law enforcement officers have to carry on behalf of society but also the sheer power they have. It’s funny that Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant came out the same year, 1992. However, that’s a far darker and more subversive movie than this relatively mainstream thriller.
Much like Kurt Russel’s Breakdown, another movie where he’s an ordinary guy trying to save his wife. While we’re dropping names, there are two more movies I have to recommend to you if you liked Unlawful Entry. The first one is a bit more on the erotic and erratic side but still features an interesting threesome of characters. The Trigger Effect also cuts a bit deeper. If, however, you want the story about a creepy cop and a couple, Lakeview Terrace is the perfect choice.
Finally, I just want to get back to a couple of scenes featuring Ray Liotta here that prove this could’ve been a completely different movie. So pay attention to the scenes where he’s with a prostitute and his partner, you’ll figure them out immediately. And is it just me or Stowe’s voice was unnaturally deep here, like she’s Elizabeth Holmes of her Theranos fame.
Director: Jonathan Kaplan
Writers: George Putnam, John Katchmer, Lewis Colick
Cast: Kurt Russell, Ray Liotta, Madeleine Stowe, Roger E. Mosley, Ken Lerner, Deborah Offner
Fun Facts: Tom Berenger, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, and John Travolta all declined to play Pete Davis while Kevin Costner, Jeff Bridges and Bill Pullman were considered for the role of Michael.