Russell Crowe lets loose in Unhinged – one of the first major new releases to make it into cinemas in the UK as lockdown restrictions are eased. Taking the man pushed to the brink by the annoyances of Western society angle to shocking extremes, Unhinged is an impressively crafted thriller that embraces the B-Movie tropes of its narrative to the utmost. An impressive sense of tension captured in Derrick Borte’s direction and Crowe’s larger than life, scenery-chewing performance help Unhinged shine as a cinematic experience deserving of the big screen showcase.
The Carl Ellsworth penned narrative sees single-mother Rachel (Caren Pistorius) running late and losing her temper with a slow driver at a traffic light. The Man (Crowe) in the vehicle ahead decides to settle the score on his own terms, by launching a vendetta against Rachel, stalking her and hunting those who she loves in a deranged rampage. In an interview with the BBC, Crowe noted: “I started to realise this type of rage is happening continuously all over the place, that seems to be a place we’ve arrived at in Western society. For our example it’s a guy using a car as a weapon, but it’s also people stepping into places of worship, schools, nightclubs, and opening fire. It’s people going crazy in a supermarket over toilet rolls.” With this in mind, Unhinged plays out slightly like an inverted Falling Down, with Crowe undoubtedly the villain here, feeling squashed by the narcissistic, selfish, and resentful side of humanity.
Opening with a montage of real-life footage of road rage in action, the tone is immediately set for the cat and mouse ride that Unhinged becomes as Rachel is pursued by Crowe’s relentless villain. Writer Ellsworth carefully unwinds this tale with an enjoyably predictable tension – from the moment that Rachel begins to blast her car horn at the imposing sleek grey pick-up truck ahead of her at the lights. What then follows is some impressively shot vehicular action scenes where The Man’s escalated emotions – or sheer derangement – becomes clear. Perhaps a four month absence from seeing films on the big screen may be in part to thank – but the action sequences in Unhinged shine, with the thrill of revving engines, near-misses, and cars flipping providing a decent helping of impressive action spectacle.
Director Derrick Borte manages to ensure the audience is fully engaged in the narrative turns of Unhinged – especially as The Man gets hold of Rachel’s unlocked mobile and with this gains free reign to those nearest and dearest within her life. There’s an unsettling horror in not knowing where Crowe’s antagonist will strike – encapsulated in a couple of gory sequences, most notably one in a diner.
Complete with Southern drawl, the role allows for Crowe to overact in the most enjoyable sense, capturing The Man’s desire to wreak havoc in Rachel’s life. Crowe manages to convey The Man attempting to control his furious energy, but is at his most entertaining when this bubbles over the surface and the actor’s performance plays with the character’s unrestrained emotions. The social commentary of The Man’s crusade against societal rudeness, narcissism and a lack of empathy does not get a particular deep dive, but it is enough to provide a slight explanation of the antagonist’s behaviour.
At a punchy ninety minutes, Unhinged does not overstay its welcome and benefits from being a well-rounded and sharp experience that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
Whilst there are echoes of the narrative tropes of enjoyable road-themed B-Movies like Joy Ride/Road Kill, Duel, and The Hitcher and the narrative track will be familiar to most, Unhinged provides some impressive thrills and suspense, some well-shot vehicular action sequences, and a massively enjoyable turn by Russell Crowe making it a solid choice to mark your return to cinema screens with.