Solid On All Fronts;
A Minimalist Approach;
Pays Big Dividends.
When I first watched Unsane a few months ago, I went into it being skeptical over Steven Soderbergh‘s decision to shoot on iPhone cameras, but left very impressed with what he was able to accomplish and sold on the method as something innovative and fresh. After watching his latest film, a Netflix original, I continued to appreciate what he was able to do with the technology. Equipped with a wide lens, the phone is able to capture the New York City environment very well, and does so with vibrant, rich color, detail and depth of field (while assuredly keeping production costs low). I really enjoyed a lot of the shots in this movie, particularly the exteriors. Moving forward, I assume this technique will be used more and more, particularly on independent films that have stories to tell but budgets whose constraints may otherwise limit them.
Oh, and the movie is really good, too!
Soderbergh is no slouch. He knows what he wants and knows how to get it out of his cast and crew. Here, using mostly actors I wasn’t very familiar with, he took a topic I usually couldn’t care less about (the NBA), and made an engrossing film that had me hooked from the opening scene. It takes a look at how a rookie basketball player fares while entering the league during a lockout, seeing the stark difference in playing for the love of the game and the quest for money and relevance firsthand, and does so while occasionally inter-cutting with interviews from current NBA players. This almost gives it a docu-drama feel, but setting those interviews in black-and-white differentiates them from the rest of the film and serves as a warning of sorts to young players coming into the league.
At its heart, it seems to be a film about disrupting the norm, which serves Soderbergh well. Here he is, shooting a movie about a few rogues trying to do things their own way, and he does so with a cell phone, while releasing the movie on Netflix. Tradition runs deep in filmmaking and sports, but who says we can’t break old molds to create new avenues of expression? We have heard from prominent figures that deride streaming as a lane that could hurt or kill the theater industry, and here is someone embracing that platform while also shunning the traditional shooting techniques and apparatus. In that regard, there is something very interesting just underneath the surface of the movie itself.
Tarell Alvin McCraney’s script is taut and witty, featuring a lot of quick dialogue that seems like something you’d see on TV (though more profane), and every exchange holds weight. I was very invested in Ray’s story and motivations, but I wish the movie was 15-20 minutes longer, to flesh out some of the surrounding characters in a similar way. I appreciated the pacing, I just wanted a bit more out of a few of the characters, particularly Sam and Erick.
Part of what makes this so good is how much it will creep on you and make you think. It’s clearly not only about basketball, but creating your own lane, owning your image and personality, and being willing to do what it takes to change the game. Daring to dream shouldn’t be feared, it should be embraced.