‘Unlawful Entry’ – ’92 Cinema Revue

Unlawful Entry – #2 in the US (June 26-28)

All-Time Domestic & Worldwide $57,138,719

Unlawful Entry is a ‘mid’ thriller saved by a terrific performance by the late great Ray Liotta.

Ray Liotta
December 18, 1954 – May 26, 2022

Months ago when planning out this series, Unlawful Entry stood out for the description alone. It is about a corrupt cop obsessed with one man’s wife and using his authority to wreck their lives. Standard run-of-the-mill Lifetime movie plot akin to The Hands That Rocks Cradle earlier in Cinema Revue series. Yet, it would not feel right if there wasn’t some reflection on the sudden passing of Ray Liotta.

Ever since breaking onto the scene in Johnathan Demme’s Something Wild, Liotta was a name on everyone’s lips. A small and stellar performance in Field of Dreams as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson carried that momentum with Goodfellas sending him to the stratosphere. Liotta’s performance as Henry Hill captivated many with Martin Scorsese directing a performance of a lifetime showing the slow rise to power and the fall from grace that came after. Liotta is fondly remembered now for his legacy left behind with nothing but praise and reflections of what a charmer of a person he was. This is why seeing such a beloved person in real life take a villainous turn in a film is fascinating and proves how versatile Liotta was as a performer.

Karen (Madeline Stowe) and Michael Carr (Kurt Russell) are interrupted by an intruder one night breaking into their house. The intruder takes hold of Karen with a knife to her throat as he runs and the police arrive. Upon arrival, the couple meets Officer Pete Davis (Ray Liotta), who seems casual and friendly at first. As time passes, however, his true nature is slowly revealed showing his corrupt ways and vile obsession with Karen. After a bad night out, Michael wants nothing to do with Davis. That sets Davis down a path to declare war on Michael to have him out of the way to make Karen his lover all her own.

Unlawful Entry would be another standard “psycho” thriller if it was not for the performance of all three leads. First and foremost Liotta’s turn as an absolute bastard of a cop is phenomenal. There’s a genuine sense of fear and fright as Davis is extremely likable at the start. The descent into that obsessive is gradual with hints. His actions dictate his true self though especially when it comes to exerting his authority. 

Davis is a corrupt cop others fail to see is one. One of Davis’ actions evokes that of the Rodney King beating with him grabbing the Carr’s intruder, throwing a nightstick at him, and beating him with the headlights of the police car on him. Michael doesn’t join in, seeing Davis for the monster he truly is. This is after Davis already helped with their security system which feels like he was “casing the joint” in retrospect. The reason the role of Davis works is that police were seen as the people to trust as they would protect and serve.

Pete Davis (Ray Liotta) puts a gun to Michael Carr’s head (Kurt Russell) after a night out gone wrong. Source: 20th Century Fox

In 1992 and thereafter, that perception of the police faded in time. Double with the Los Angeles Police Department and Sheriff’s Department as they still undergo scrutiny to this day. The other cops see Davis as a mark of excellence and an outstanding cop. Yet, the minute his partner starts to turn wise, Davis retaliates with the worst-case scenario option. Not only that, Davis tries to be friendly and too close to comfort Karen getting to know her and her day-to-day. That in itself leads to a scene in the finale that crosses into sexual assault territory that while not graphic, can still traumatize those who watch. The likability and charm of Davis fade and the beast rages. Liotta plays the balancing act of nice facade to absolute menace to a T with chilling results. 

Karen Carr (Madeline Stowe) and Pete Davis (Ray Liotta) talk about her intruder experience at her home. Source: 20th Century Fox

Stowe as Karen handles the character’s trauma greatly shows that Karen is still dealing with everything from the event. She relents that she cannot feel safe and finds comfort in Davis to confide. When Davis turns on her though, she shows terror and fear, but also the willingness to stop Davis. She even worries that Michael is going off a deeper end than herself. Stowe is a terrific performer and it’s a shame I have not seen much of her work outside of this film and 12 Monkeys. Russell also nails his role showing his character being happy in life and career, but slowly losing it as Davis starts to wreck his career. He is still the Kurt Russell everyone loves with a suburbanite identity. It’s interesting to know outside of his genre-film work, Russell can still play a regular joe of sorts. 

The direction by Johnathan Kaplan is as standard as they come, but manages to capture the air of mystery There’s a great shot of Michael telling Karen to stay in the bathroom and lock herself up. In this brief moment, the audience becomes Karen and we see what she sees: a panicked and worried man. When that shot ends, the audience and Karen are stuck in that bathroom wondering if it’s safe. That’s a wonderful direction choice that I was surprised to see. No wonder it made it in the trailer.

Lingering on objects and shots to have the audience clued in also helps, be it a misdirection or showing what may come into play later. There was one object, in particular, they lingered on a bit for a password in the film. I hoped it would come into play and when it did, I was satisfied even if it was telegraphed prior. When Liotta and Russell eventually come to blow too, it turns into a pro wrestling match complete with a toss over the breakfast nook and a frying pan used as a weapon. That is shot well by not shying from the action and ensuring that everything in the fight is shown. That’s something sorely missing from many movies these days.

Unlawful Entry is not a film that breaks the mold but continues the trend of fun mid-budget thrillers. It gets by mostly on great performances with Liotta being the standout among them. It’s worth throwing on when doing laundry and folding away much like other mid-tier thrillers before and after it.

Revue Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Next time, it’s A League of Their Own’s turn to bat and it’s a home run in the best ways.

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