Clips of real-life rage shot on security CCTV and smartphones pepper the opening credits of Unhinged. We should remain vigilant to avoid a wave of verbal and physical abuse in the street and on motorways. Director Derrick Borte seems to suggest it’s increasingly violent and unpredictable out there.
In the case of Russell Crowe’s lead character, that’s certainly true. In Unhinged, Crowe plays Tom Hunter, a hulking, wounded bear of a man who – based on the brutal revenge he enacts on his ex-wife and her current beau – categorically deserves the film’s titular adjective. His latest victim is tardy hairdresser Rachel (Caren Pistorius), who honks her car horn at Tom while sitting behind him at traffic lights as she takes her pre-pubescent son Kyle to school. Obviously Tom doesn’t take it kindly. He broods, stalks and murders with impunity for the rest of the film. Think of him as the human equivalent of the “See yer da’s taking the divorce well” meme with the violence turned up to 11.
It’s been two decades since we’ve seen Crowe at his absolute best in 1997 neo-noir classic L.A. Confidential and blockbusters such as Gladiator, while this century he’s sporadically dazzled in underrated bangers such as 2007’s American Gangster and 2016’s The Nice Guys. One gets the feeling he can play the evil antagonist of Unhinged in his sleep but he’s convincing as the demented bloke who flips, putting his all into punching, stabbing and burning Rachel’s loved ones. For her part Pistorius is sympathetic and steely as the indefatigable woman who must stop him to save herself and her son.
Borte, with help from David Buckley’s fear-inducing score, keeps anxiety levels high throughout. A particular highlight is when Tom calls Rachel from a breakfast meeting with her lawyer friend Andy. We know things will go sour and they do in the most memorable movie diner scene since You Were Never Really Here.
As with recent plane-cockpit thriller 7500, the spectre of Steven Spielberg’s Duel looms large: the plot is just as minimal and singularly focused. However, many others will be reminded of Spielberg’s Jaws instead, except here Crowe is the shark. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the greatest films ever made have paper-thin plots pinched from others and refashioned. After all, it’s not the size of the story it’s what you do with it that counts.
Aside from the mood-setting credits and contemporary tech, Unhinged could just as easily be called unfashionable. It’s a vicious, trashy thriller seemingly with no deep meaning, zeitgeist-surfing message or overt concessions to modernity. There’s just tense, fast entertainment that doesn’t outstay its welcome for a lean 93 minutes. It may be unsophisticated and perhaps a touch unoriginal but this mid-budgeted action-er has merit. As an added bonus, there’s an anguished moment where a device runs out of battery: cinematic homage to the inescapable truth that we are all slaves to our chargers.
- Director: Derrick Borte
- Starring: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P. McKenzie
- Release date: July 31