Director: Derrick Borte
Screenwriter: Carl Ellsworth
Starring: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Jimmi Simpson, Gabriel Bateman, Austin P. McKenzie
Return-to-cinema thriller Unhinged, starring Russell Crowe in a particularly enticing role as a disturbed and relentless maniac, is far from your typically glossy, often fantastical summer release, but in a year when the summer is far from typical, there is something of a charm to seeing a film reminiscent of the thrillers of prior decades, a distinct feeling of “welcome back” to a release that has more in common with Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down than your typical Marvel or Jurassic blockbuster.
A “wrong time, wrong place” premise supports notable holes in logic in this Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye; Disturbia) written feature, the film having enough by way of reasonable character actions to warrant following the increasingly violent journey without too much confrontation, the film working to solidly communicate enough of an emotional core to resonate for at least long enough for you to make it to the end.
Director Derrick Borte (London Town) ensures a pacey delivery and well constructed tense atmosphere throughout via a praiseworthy focus on Russell Crowe’s character “The Man” and his victim Rachel (Caren Pistorius, Mortal Engines), rarely sidelining to unneeded filler characters as he embeds the experience in the terror of what you would expect it to feel like if you were suddenly being hunted by an aggressive, intelligent and imposing man. Unlike in so many films from the genre, there seems to be a genuine intention to avoid the shortcuts that can quickly bring a narrative together, an eye-roll inducing moment in the finale being perhaps the only notable misdemeanour of a perfectly serviceable combination of story and presentation.
It is Russell Crowe through whom the film most hinges, his performance as a sweaty and ultra violent, somewhat suicidal personification of hyper-aggressive masculinity being performed with all the gravitas you would expect of such a seasoned and celebrated actor. Here, Crowe is remarkably tense and, despite moments in which his character could have been played with a degree of levity, utterly despicable. Comparisons in this sense can be drawn to 1993 thriller Falling Down starring Michael Douglas as a down-on-his-luck everyman who suddenly snaps and goes on a relentless and aggressive barrage, the key evolution in Unhinged being that Crowe’s character isn’t presented sympathetically, “The Man” having more in common with a typical horror monster in many respects, though this one coming with the threat of being potentially anybody you come across. Crowe is notably larger for this latest role too, an element of performance that plays into the film’s wider intention to present the character as large and imposing at every opportunity. He drives an oversized pick-up truck that dwarfs other cars on the road, and is positioned as particularly prominent in every shot to create the strongest sense of unease even when at his least potent. Unhinged found its star name, and it operated in every facet to get the very most out of his exceptional talents, minor accent fluctuations aside.
Vital to the success of the character is the positioning of Rachel (Pistorius) as the victim he hunts. By presenting the victim as a woman, one who shares a number of similarities in life circumstances to her hunter, Unhinged manages to touch on a number of important contemporary gender issues, not least abuse. In Unhinged it is clear that Crowe’s character operates from a position of relative privilege, his positioning above Pistorius in almost every frame emphasising that throughout, but his inability to acknowledge this and the aggressive way he reacts to grief is in of itself representative of the gendered norms of emotional reactions and the inherent physical dangers women face in moments of confrontation with any male counterpart. Pistorius is a noteworthy collaborator in this respect, her performance being believable and nuanced in its own right.
The quality of the performances, and the focus the filmmakers place on them in order to portray their narrative and thematic intentions, make for a strong backbone to a film that isn’t going to rip up any trees like the aforementioned Falling Down due to a number of borderline cheesy moments and a less than stellar ending, but is certainly made up of very strong parts and is therefore a throwback thriller worthy spending a few hours of your time with.