Published Aug 13, 2020Russell Crowe is a first-billed villain in Unhinged, the road rage-themed thriller, earning the honour for being the biggest name involved and also to highlight what kind of movie we're watching. He's working in the recently popular trend of name actors gleefully terrorizing folks in barebone thrillers movies: Octavia Spencer in Ma, Dennis Quaid in The Intruder, and now Crowe's possessed, aggrieved rageaholic.
Crowe wouldn't be much of a devil without someone to bedevil. Here, that's Rachel (Caren Pistorious), a mother, stylist and careless driver going through an ugly divorce. With her life pulling her in half a dozen different directions at once, the last thing she needs is the bad luck of coming across Crowe's anonymous character.
When she pulls up behind him in traffic and he doesn't respond quickly enough to the green light, she lays on the horn. It's a mild infraction, but it's enough to set off the hair-trigger anger of Crowe's character. Off this, he sets about dismantling her life, going after Rachel's family and those close to her, with paper-thin circumstances keeping her from seeking any form of help.
Pistorious's Rachel isn't the classic "wrong person" in any sense. There's no fundamental part of her that needs to be cathartically excised through the suffering her antagonist puts her through. More than anything, her circumstances mostly feed into his motivations. She's struggling to make ends meet, caring for her son with an absent father and a struggling business. Our villain sees this through his character's own MRA-lite inclinations, turning her into someone worthy of punishment.
Keeping Rachel in his sights takes a lot of bending over backwards in the plot. Unhinged wants to keep the audience in a moment with her as she goes from event to event.
It's most successful when the film is close to its road rage tagline, when Crowe's character is acting out on Rachel car to car, with dozens of unaware drivers around. The crossing of that boundary and the helplessness that comes with it feels true. Those moments are limited, though. For the most part, he's managing to digging into her life while she's at a second location, hearing about it over the phone.
Thinking back to Ma and The Intruder, the opportunity to go bad gave Spencer and Quaid a little pep in their step, permission to have some fun. Crowe, here, is much more grounded. More than anything, he's an effective instrument for violence. Director Derrick Borte and his team of filmmakers gleefully show the destruction that almost comically cascades around Crowe wherever his character goes.
As a thriller, Unhinged feels familiar in a welcome way. Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth also wrote Disturbia and Red Eye, two other diverting films you could slip into a theatre and afford to get lost in. This movie comes at a different moment in theatrical history. At various points during the COVID-19 pandemic, this film has been slated as the first movie to premiere when theatres reopen, for whoever wanted to tempt fate.
I watched Unhinged at home. I wouldn't watch any movie in the theatre right now. In any other circumstance, watching Crowe wreak some carnage on the big screen would be a fine use of my money. (VVS)