Unhinged review: Russell Crowe drives back onto the big screen

Russell Crowe
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Russell Crowe is in a very bad mood in Unhinged, that’s playing now at cinemas around the UK – and here’s our review of the movie.

For a few years now, with the major studios geared increasingly towards blockbuster output, the mid-budget movie has steadily become the purview of smaller companies seeking to fill that vacuum. Unhinged is the exact type of mid-budget vehicle that the major studios are becoming reluctant to make. It’s a dark, nail-biting thriller centred around the violent, unbridled fury of Russell Crowe’s enraged driver, pushed over the edge after an innocuous disagreement between him and another motorist, the film’s protagonist, sparks a violent rampage.

At a lean 90 minutes, and the product of a ‘patchwork production’ between several small production companies, Unhinged feels like an opportunity to create something outside of the studio system with an identity of its own. Instead, what you get is a slightly disappointing run-of-the-mill thriller with some taut, finely crafted sequences that counterbalance the movie’s general lack of identity.

Crowe, a profusely-sweating, menacing brute is physically lumbering and certainly looks the part, but his performance is simply serviceable as the film’s rage-filled antagonist, whilst Caren Pistorius is a generally effective foil as the target of Crowe’s frenzy. Despite their conflict, the duo are to some degree a twisted reflection of each other, one of several early narrative flourishes that tip a nod to Hitchcock. However, the story and dialogue soon stray from the Master of Suspense into more absurd avenues, creating logic holes so large that you could easily cruise Crowe’s hulking pickup truck through them.

Ultimately, and somewhat perversely, given that the film was made outside of the studio system, it can feel a little formulaic and dated. Rather than opt for a smart take, embedding subtextual social commentary, subverting genre expectations or leaning into the pulpier territory of trashy B-movie graphic violence, Unhinged chooses to play it safe and thus, the final result feels occasionally uninspired. It ends up feeling a bit like Spielberg’s Duel on some substances, but the minimalist, wrung-out tension of that movie, as two drivers battle for supremacy, is quickly burdened with a wider plot which is far more uneven.

Speaking of those driving scenes though, that’s when Unhinged really shines, with some thrilling moments of riveting vehicular conflict, that in this reviewer’s opinion, make it worth the watch. It’s a shame though, that the filmmaker’s couldn’t replicate this sense of style throughout the film as a whole, or better, integrate them into a story with something definitive to say.

Unhinged isn’t without some really nice sequences when the film finds its rhythm. The action sequences are really well constructed and some of the dramatic moments pay off well. There are some clever touches too, such as Rachel, the lead character’s car being an ancient Volvo S40 estate, long seen as one of the safest cars on the road, an ironic choice as the film unfolds.

Likewise, the film’s final moments contain a one-line zinger that made the small, mostly quiet audience I watched it with, cackle with glee, a blow-off line so good that any 90s action star would be proud to utter it. Speaking of the 90s, Unhinged feels like a movie of that era, choosing to play its action-rooted thrills straight as an arrow. The issue is though, at $33 million, a budget that by Hollywood standards is almost considered small, the film chooses not to exercise the clear and obvious opportunity to take a risk, narratively, visually or thematically.

When other smaller movies have found great critical (and sometimes commercial) success in combining economical runtimes with modest budgets and nimble yet bold production companies, it’s because they’ve used what latitude they have to take risks that would otherwise be impossible in a more expensive film. Unhinged may possess a title that proudly announces its ‘edginess’ for all to see, but despite some truly gripping moments of action that make it well worth seeking out, it feels like all involved never unleash their creativity to the point of creating something worthy of its rather hyperbolic title.


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