Review by Sean Boelman
Although a B-movie thriller may not initially seem like an optimal pick to herald audiences back to theaters, Derrick Borte’s Unhinged is the very definition of a popcorn flick and will definitely have viewers on the edge of their seat. Ridiculous but undeniably enjoyable, the film probably would have fallen apart without a committed performance from star Russell Crowe.
The movie tells the story of a single mother who, following a seemingly innocent traffic encounter, finds herself targeted by an unstable and vengeful man who has taken his case of road rage to the extreme. A lot of similarities can be seen in Carl Ellsworth’s script to ‘90s thrillers (Falling Down is the most obvious, but there are tinges of Die Hard with a Vengeance too), but transposed to the modern day.
Admittedly, one of the film’s big issues is that it is a bit too on-the-nose with its themes. Obviously road rage is terrifying, and Ellsworth capitalizes on those fears to make a tense and nail-biting thriller, but trying to inspire people to be more courteous on the road through intimidation seems a bit cheesy and out there.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is that the antagonist is being marketed as the lead rather than the protagonist, and honestly, it’s fitting. Although the protagonist’s arc as a working-class mother struggling with her own life and trying to protect her family is compelling, Crowe’s crazy and dare I say... “unhinged” performance steals the scene every time.
Crowe has proven himself to be an excellent actor in prestige roles, but this shows that he may yet have a second life in genre flicks. He truly goes all-in with every single scene, selling every little mannerism and one-liner. Caren Pistorius also delivers a solid turn, providing the emotional grounding to counter Crowe’s absurd hamminess.
At just an hour and a half in length (including credits), it’s a lean and mean narrative. After about fifteen minutes of character introductions and exposition, Ellsworth gets right into the action and consistently delivers scene after scene. When you think that the film has reached its peak of intensity, there’s another brutal scene that tops the last.
The only real disappointment in the movie’s execution is that the car chase sequences are a tad underwhelming. Since the story is literally about road rage, one would expect these scenes to be among the most exciting in the film. Instead, Borte directs them in a very conventional and matter-of-fact way that creates a significant lull in the action.
Unhinged may not be a particularly complex movie, but it’s a ton of fun thanks to Russell Crowe going full throttle as the antagonist. If you feel safe venturing out to your local multiplex, this will definitely provide a much-needed turn-your-brain-off escape from the world’s issues.
Unhinged hits theaters on August 21.
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