For the past few months during COVID-19 all eyes have been on either Mulan or Tenet to re-open America’s cinemas. But that isn’t quite right. One film has been routinely in the lead as the true first major release, constantly pushing back just enough to be the first to open when theaters actually opened. Well, that time has come (somewhat) and that film is now released. Yes, we can all rush out and go so Unhinged.
What, you ask? There’s a movie called Unhinged releasing? Why, yes, there is. It stars Russel Crowe as a crazy guy killing people for no good reason.
Look, I understand why you probably haven’t heard of it. It’s a B-grade thriller that would have flown under the radar in the best of times, let alone when everyone was caught up paying more attention to the world falling apart. It’s an odd movie to beckon everyone back into theaters and definitely the wrong one. If it had come out normally I probably would have shrugged and enjoyed it but as one of the sole films releasing any time soon it is woefully lacking.
Director: Derek Borte
Release Date: August 20, 2020 (Theatrical)
Unhinged‘s premise is pretty simple: Rachel (Caren Pistorous) is a recently divorced single mother who is having a bad day as her life falls apart around her and because of her. Caught in traffic on her way to school with her son (Jimmi Simpson) she blares her horn at a pickup truck that is just sitting at a red light. Turns out its The Man’s (Crowe) pickup truck and he is tired of people being rude. In a terse conversation between cars, Rachel refuses to apologize for honking at him and The Man (his name is never revealed) decides he’s going to kill her and all her loved ones. He does this by following her and then stealing her unlocked phones so he can find all her contacts, which is a really stupid plot point for a movie to have to rely on but gets us where we’re going.
Thematically Unhinged kind of wants to say something about our current culture and world… maybe? The film opens with Crowe’s character murdering his ex-wife and her new husband and then never really dives into his character much from there. We’re left to pick up hints about this man who has gone batshit crazy and started chasing down Rachel and anyone she loves. Think of how the Heath Ledger’s Joker is treated in The Dark Knight but with far less subtlety or grace. It’s actually not a bad movie, honestly. It keeps the film trucking along and you get enough information to understand that it really isn’t all that important why he’s gone crazy, he just is.
The problem is the movie wants to say more but director Derrick Borte doesn’t have the skill to weave it in well, instead bludgeoning us over the head with messaging in the same violent manner as his antagonist. The opening credits are a series of shots of traffic and protests with news reports about people not being able to control their anger anymore. “The Man” is clearly some sort of MAGA stand-in as he makes sexist and misogynistic comments throughout the film and bemoans the downfall of civility while taking no blame himself. The problem is the movie does nothing with this and at times seems to be excusing his actions since there’s so little explanation for them. By trying to have it both ways Borte fails all around.
It’s too bad because as thrillers go Unhinged is actually pretty intense. Once the action picks up it never really lets go and the movie is visceral and raw to a disturbing point. It works. When the messaging gets out of the way of the action the cat and mouse game between The Man and Rachel is nearly constantly intense even if much of it is predicated on stupid decisions.
Crow is also simply fantastic. He channels the kind of overblown performance a movie like this needs and his large carriage and increasingly disturbed demeanor often carry a scene. Borte clearly knows what he has and lets Crowe ramble and yell all over scenes, chewing up the scenery to violent effect, delivering a perturbing performance that sticks with you despite the low caliber of the film. One wonders what kind of classic killer Crowe could deliver in a better movie with a more astute director.
Unhinged is a movie damned by circumstance. Under any other condition it would have released, gotten OK reviews, and probably would have garnered a bit of a cult following, not caring much as there was so much else out. It’s messaging is a bit warped but its tense and thrilling enough to function. Sadly, in the vacuum that is our movie world it can’t fade into the background and so its flaws become all the more glaring. Unhinged isn’t bad in and of itself but its quest to be the first film out in theaters means it had really bad timing.