Unhinged stars Russell Crowe as a man with a deadly case of road rage

Russell Crowe in Unhinged. Picture: Skip Bolen
Russell Crowe in Unhinged. Picture: Skip Bolen

Unhinged (MA15+)

3 stars

Some people have one of those days. Others seem to have one of those lives - and just when it seems things can't get any worse, they do.

Rachel (played by Caren Pistorios from Offspring) is discovering this for herself. She's going through a divorce and struggling to keep her business afloat, her mother is in a nursing home and she is trying to raise her young son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman).

Having woken up late one morning, she has to rush to drop Kyle off at school and get to her best client. But things just aren't going her way: her car is held up in traffic and one driver (Russell Crowe, bearded and considerably bulked up, one way or another) in particular is blocking her way. Stressed, she honks the car horn long and loud.

The offending vehicle soons ends up next to her and The Man (as Crowe's character is credited) remonstrates and offers her the opportunity to say sorry for her rudeness. What's wrong with a "courtesy tap" of the horn, a short honk or two, rather than all that blaring?

But with all the problems she's having, Rachel is really not in the mood and declines to apologise.

Bad idea. Very bad idea.

Rachel might think he's just a minor annoyance on a particularly trying day, but he's much more than that.

The Man is the epitome of the worst excesses of toxic masculinity. Earlier, he came to the house of his ex-wife and kids, went on the attack, then torched the place with them inside before driving off in his pick-up truck.

As the title says, he is unhinged: Byronic only in the sense that he's mad, bad and dangerous to know. And Rachel has set him off again.

This is also a man who has nothing to lose: he's not going to give himself up and although he is all over the news, the thought of death by cop doesn't faze him.

Being disrespected, as he sees it, means he's got to teach another woman a lesson - a very hard one indeed.

This is one of those thrillers where an original idea or two seems almost deliberately to have been combined with elements of various other movies - a bit of Duel (albeit in an urban landscape), a hunk of Falling Down, a chunk of Cape Fear. There's some action and a moment or two of bloody violence.

The derivative nature of the film is not surprising when screenwriter Carl Ellsworth's credits include co-writing Disturbia, which wasa sort of young-adult update of Rear Window.

Crowe's intensity and physical presence work well here even though his character is thinly drawn. There are little snatches of backstory but not enough to make him remotely sympathetic or anything more than a clear and present danger which is certainly vividly conveyed.

He doesn't just want to stalk Rachel on the road or bump into her vehicle. We soon see he has a depraved cunning to go along with his brute strength as he messes with Rachel's mind, stealing her mobile phone to choose targets known or related to her so as to make her suffer as much as possible.

Pistorios is believably vulnerable as the frazzled Rachel and Bateman - no relation to TV and film star Jason that I could ascertain but one of several juvenile thespian siblings - is suitably smartalecky, sympathetic and scared as the need arises.

The rest of the actors are also good but tend to be either bystanders or potential or actual victims of the marauding maniac (place your bets). Notable among them are Jimmi Simpson (Westworld) as Rachel's lawyer friend Andy and Austin P. McKenzie (When We Rise) as her shiftless but good-hearted brother Fred.

There are themes to tease out here: a big one, obviously, is toxic masculinity, and the film also looks at with the selfishness, alienation, violence and overreaction too often seen in society today. But the film doesn't seem all that interested in addressing them very profoundly or seriously. At 90 minutes it's certainly tight but some fleshing out would have helped give the film a bit more substance.

Unhinged was shot in New Orleans but while the technical credits are fine, from cinematography to stunt work, director Derrick Borte doesn't evoke a unique sense of place: it could be just about any big American city with freeways and suburbs

All of this might sound like I hated the film, but I didn't. I had fun. It's nothing super special, just one of those well-made, disposable popcorn thrillers you can sit and enjoy for an hour and a half without being unduly disturbed or challenged or anything other than entertained. And at least there was some sense of credibility in the characters (Rachel does phone the police, something that doesn't always happen in this kind of movie).

Cinema One at Dendy is huge and even given the social distancing limitations, the audience was very small: watching with a sizeable, engrossed audience can enhance an experience such as this considerably.

This story Trafficking in toxic masculinity first appeared on The Canberra Times.