5 Aug 2020


From At The Movies, 7:32 pm on 5 August 2020

Kiwi-Australian actor Russell Crowe takes road rage to the lethal level in Unhinged. It's essentially Jaws from the shark's eye view but in this case, the shark is Russell.

Simon Morris: On paper, the idea of Unhinged seemed to be a little too much of a good thing.

Essentially, it's the standard "woman chased by mindless threat" plot - a staple of everything from the Halloween movies to the first Terminator but with the twist that the monster gets equal time and dialogue.

But it turns out that the producers knew what they were doing. Unhinged puts the pedal to the metal early and doesn't quit until its old-school punchline at the end.

The film opens with solo mum Rachel taking her son Kyle to school. They're running late, and it doesn't help when some bozo in a 4-wheel drive holds her up at a green light.

It's Russell Crowe, looking enormous these days and more threatening than usual. And he's about to let Rachel know where she was found wanting.

What we know and what Rachel doesn't, is that Rusty's already been tipped over the edge and has decided it's a day for not taking prisoners.

Wherever Rachel and Kyle drive, the Man is on their tail and isn't going to quit.

The mark of a good B-movie like Unhinged is it borrows from the best.

Certainly, it takes dollops of early Spielberg - not just Jaws with its unstoppable menace, but its predecessor Duel, in which a sole driver was threatened by a vast anonymous truck.

By personalizing the threat - the now archetypal "angry white man" - we're reminded of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, blaming everyone else for his problems.

But today there are any amount of similar people on the news, taking to the streets and looking for easy solutions.

In other words, the Russell Crowe character could very well be the villain for our times, just as Rachel is a pretty good exemplar for modern women.

She's played by Caren Pistorius - who is like Russell Crowe, New Zealand-raised, and now mostly working in Australia.

Rachel's going through a messy divorce with Kyle's, frankly, pretty useless Dad. She's doing the best she can for Kyle and her deadbeat brother, and her best friend is her ineffectual lawyer Andy.

In a nice touch, her tracker knows all this. He's stolen her phone.

As Unhinged continues, its ingenuity occasionally gets in the way of plausibility.

Speaking as someone who can barely switch the phone on while driving, I found it hard to believe that Russell could be flicking between apps while hurtling along crowded city streets.

But by this stage, we no longer care about the laws of time, space or scriptwriting. All we want is for Rachel to get through the film in one piece - for the first three-quarters of the movie at any rate.

For the last quarter, we also want her persecutor to get precisely what's coming to him.

To Russell Crowe's credit, he turns in a terrific performance as your worst nightmare on the road - a road-rager with all the time on the world to take it out on the object of his fury.

And Caren Pistorius, who's a new face to me, plays Rachel with just the right blend of Everywoman soccer mum and early Sarah Connor from The Terminator.

Unhinged was never going to be more than genre-picture fun, but Rusty and Caren make damn sure it's not less than that either.

Scary, violent, noisy, and a satisfying ending. Four boxes efficiently ticked.

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