Unhinged is a strange movie. Not so much in its story but rather who stars in it and the context of its release.
The film begins with Tom Hunter – played by Russell Crowe, still carrying the weight he put on playing Roger Ailes – a recently divorced and unemployed man suffering a mental breakdown and committing a shocking act of violence. We then pivot to Rachel (Slow West’s Caren Pistorius), another recent divorcee struggling to balance taking care of her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman), her career and a custody battle.
In a rush to drop Kyle into school, Rachel crosses paths with Tom – beeping him for not moving his car when a light turned green. After a heated exchange, Tom begins to stalk Rachel – determined to show her what a bad day really is.
Unhinged is a surprisingly retro old-school action thriller, playing like a mix of other mature and violent road rage flicks like Breakdown, Changing Lanes, Duel and The Hitcher. That said, it’s nowhere near as interesting as any of the films that clearly inspired it – feeling too derivative and eschewing any sense of realism or social commentary. In terms of the latter, the movie lazily suggests through various news reports that make up its Purge-style credits that road rage is caused by the pressures of the modern world, not exactly a ground-breaking observation.
Aside from one ingenious plot point involving Tom stealing Rachel’s smart phone – allowing him to terrorise her contact list and control her life essentially via her social media and online bank account – the movie plays out exactly as the viewer would expect. There’s the friends of the protagonist that exist solely to get butchered by the villain (hello Jimmi Simpson). There’s the showdown finale with the increasingly Terminator-like bad guy, one that is set up by seemingly minor information – here, very creakily – dumped in the first act. The heroine even gets to say a cool line before vanquishing the threat to her life.
Despite all the above though, the film is watchable. Carl Ellsworth’s screenplay at least runs through the clichés at the same speed as Tom ramming innocent bystanders with his car. Meanwhile, director Derrick Borte shoots all the car carnage and violence in a way which feels appropriately brutal and wince inducing – for cinephiles there’s a cool homage to Michael Mann’s Manhunter. It’s just a shame the end product feels so middle of the road, something fun to watch in the moment but ultimately forgettable.
The real reason to seek out Unhinged is Crowe’s turn. Though it’s odd seeing the Oscar-winner in such an unremarkable and small thriller and the viewer never forgets they are watching Russell Crowe, his scenery chewing is easily the most entertaining part of the movie. Bearded and speaking with a slight Southern twinge, the movie gives him plenty of opportunities to slip between playing a gentleman when lulling his victims into a false sense of security, to a scheming villain as he delivers threats through a phone line, to eventually a frothing at the mouth pill popping maniacal lunatic. The end result is akin to John Goodman’s Big Lebowski character but even more deranged and it’s unlike anything Crowe has done before.
Yet, while it’s odd seeing Crowe – so often cast as the Hollywood hero in such a role – what’s even stranger is the fact that Unhinged will be one of the only new movies in cinemas as they gradually begin to open up post-Covid. Something so disposable surely belongs on Netflix to be discovered one weekday night when you’ve nothing else to watch and 93 minutes to kill.
You could do worse than checking out Unhinged this weekend in theatres. But your money might be better spent on some of the smaller gems gracing cinema screens.