Unhinged Review

I’ve been away from the cinema for so long, I’d forgotten what popcorn smelt like…

Yes, for the first time since March 11th, I got to see a new film at the cinema. After a few long months of uncertainty, I got to sit in the dark, with a large drink in the armrest, and enjoy a film; or is ‘enjoy’ the right word?

Well, after all these months away, I think I’d have appreciated seeing anything on the big screen (well, not quite everything, you understand) and the choice of new releases were slim – only two in fact – so it was pretty much a crapshoot as to whether it was going to be a big success story for cinemas miraculous return, or a film that the studio was hoping would scoot by unnoticed. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Unhinged is a ‘road-rage revenge’ thriller, as strange as that combination of words sound. It feels like the film is trying to make a statement on how quick to anger people seem to be now, but it picked an extremely strange niche to go after.

I’d never heard of the movie until last week when it was mentioned on the BBC News website as one of the new releases coming out when the cinemas reopened, and from its brief description, I was expecting a Death Wish-Esque revenge thriller about driven to dispair by tragedy, and while he is driven to despair, let’s just say he lacks the justification Charles Bronson had in the aforementioned film.

Russell Crowe stars as a nameless Man, who is seemingly driven over the edge after the disintegration of his marriage and goes on a murderous rampage, targeting an innocent, recently-divorced mother after a fairly tame road rage incident.

Now, I realise that it’s not for me to put words in the filmmaker’s mouths about what their film was trying to achieve or what its message was, but judging by its tone, and an opening credits sequence set over what I assume are real-life road rage incidents, you’d forgive me for thinking that the intention was to create a message against being quick to anger, but it feels incongruous in a film with such an over-the-top example of an angry character.

It is unfair to say that Crowe’s character is angry because of road rage, but rather that he has gone completely insane following a string of unseen events that the film alludes to, the fact he crosses paths with Rachel (the mother character, played by Caren Pistorius) is just extremely unlucky on Rachel’s part, she isn’t the reason for him being ‘unhinged’ but she’s going to face the consequences. So those going into the film expecting Russell Crowe to be playing a heroic figure will be greatly disappointed when they find out that he’s instead playing a deranged psychopath with an axe to grind and a chip on his shoulder the size of the Titanic.

For what it’s worth, this key performance of Crowe’s is very effective, at times he’s a terrifying presence with the cold, steely gaze of a man with nothing to live for anymore, and is planning on taking a few people down with him. This character is what makes the film as a whole work, waiting to see what he’ll do next, and how long it will be before he’s captured.

While the film itself is extremely generic, I found myself being far more engrossed than I thought I would be, on the strength of Crowe’s chilling performance and its rising, unrelenting tension.

It does, however, suffer from being a set up with very few logical conclusions, there are only a few ways this story could end, and it finds itself running low on ideas towards the end, which is especially noticeable during the car chase sequences, many of which felt indistinguishable from each other, and later plot points are incredibly obviously signposted earlier on in dialogue exchanges that come across as a clunky way to set up future set pieces.

The cinematography of the film starts extremely strong, with a very well shot, and extremely chilling opening scene, setting the tone very well early on; sadly, towards the end, it all starts to fall apart, especially during the climactic scene, in which a film that has, up to that point, relied on fairly standard and dependable camera framing, suddenly gets very jump cut-happy and disorientating, much in the same vein as a lot of modern action scenes which suffer from far too many camera cuts, you start to lose track of who is where, and it diminishes the tension which had been fairly well built up to that point.

As I said earlier though, I didn’t dislike it, maybe that’s through just being glad of being back in a cinema, therefore being easier to please I don’t know, but I found the main character chilling, yet utterly captivating, I found myself not being able to look away, no matter how much I wanted to; that and the film is fairly good at building tension in the middle of the film, even if it does lose a bit of steam later on.

As one of the films noted highlights so far, it goes without saying that I enjoyed Russell Crowe’s performance in this film; he’s changed a lot since his days in Gladiator and doesn’t seem to get nearly as much attention these days, but he can still deliver the goods when called upon, as evidenced here, and it makes me think that he could have a future as a captivating movie villain, rather than a hero going forward. I also enjoyed the performances of Caren Pistorius and Gabriel Bateman as her son, Kyle. They didn’t have much to play with character-wise, as they were both fairly generic stock characters, but they squeezed all the potential they could out of them at the very least.

So, in summary, I return to the cinemas with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a middle-of-the-road, competently put together film that passes the film but will struggle to be memorable, and whilst I hope that isn’t a sign of things to come, I did appreciate a new film to watch, as well as the leading performances, so Unhinged is passable, maybe even enjoyable on first viewing, but certainly not one I’ll be in a rush to get on Blu-Ray.

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