Unhinged was one of the first films to release theatrically in the United States following the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. And it seemed like it was generally well-liked by those who saw it at the time. This is not all that surprising within the context. It is a highly-visual, modestly-budgeted spectacle film. Those missing the theaters enough to brave the virus to see something (anything) on a big screen would understandably enjoy the pulse-pounding wild ride that is Unhinged; and, at the same time, they may be willing to overlook the cartoonish nature of its plot.
By cartoonish, I don’t mean to say childish. No, the bad-faith mayhem of Derrick Borte’s film is mean and often upsetting for how blunt and direct it presents its violent outbursts. The film opens with its deranged antagonist (Russell Crowe) deliberating in his car, seemingly manifesting the courage to completely snap (to become unhinged, one might say). He proceeds to enter a home with a hammer and a can of gasoline, where he bludgeons a man and a woman to death—we presume it is his ex-wife and her new partner.
The film then establishes Rachel (Caren Pistorius) and her son (Gabriel Bateman), who are both dramatically late to work and school, respectively. This, on a day that has been established through newscast voiceover as one of the busiest traffic days of the year. Stuck behind a pickup who won’t proceed on green, she honks in frustration. Unfortunately for Rachel and everyone in her phone’s contact list, she honked at one sweaty, crazy-eyed Russell Crowe.
Large segments of Unhinged play out like an urban Duel, with Crowe’s unnamed character chasing Rachel down streets and on highways with increasingly dangerous results. These are fairly well-edited sequences with a good sense of pacing and stakes. Other sequences involve Crowe terrorizing Rachel by getting close to those she loves (after stealing her phone at a gas station) and threatening to kill them if she doesn’t apologize for honking at him. These are adequately unsettling (to a point); they are also ludicrous. And pairing the absurdity of the moments with the brutality of the violence makes for a strange tonal soup that I did not particularly enjoy taking in.
For what it’s worth, Crowe is pretty perfect in this role. As mindless as the character ends up being in execution, Crowe presents him with a menace that is fairly enthralling to watch.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)