Russell Crowe is Unhinged

The first major theatrical release since theatres have opened coincides with my first movie review in some time (been a stressful few months in many ways) and it happens to be Unhinged, a brutal, fucked up road rage thriller starring Russell Crowe emulating a pissed off pufferfish who’s had enough and is not gonna take it anymore. That doesn’t even begin to cover the heinous, psychopathic atrocities this dude inflicts on an already stressed out family in this cheerfully deplorable, extremely disturbing yet somehow sheepishly enjoyable B-grade thriller that plays like Falling Down by way of The Hitcher with a dash of Cape Fear (Crowe sports a southern dandy drawl that wavers hilariously yet is nonetheless reminiscent of Robert DeNiro’s Max Cady, except this dude makes Cady look like a kindergarten teacher). Crowe’s character here, credited as simply ‘The Man’, is an irredeemable monster from the very opening scene of the film, where he viciously slaughters his ex wife and some dude she’s with, then burns the house down around them, disappearing into the night in his big loud pickup, only to resurface the next day to make life hell for a single mother (Caren Pistorius) and her kid (Gabriel Bateman). All it takes is one aggressive honk from her and the last straw of his sanity snaps, his mission now to teach her exactly ‘what a bad day is’ and go to some very shocking lengths to do so. The opening credits adeptly show what an arbitrary downward spiral road rage can be as various newscasters and radio personalities lament the morning crawl with snippets that escalate from “gonna need that second cup of coffee” to “Oh my god!!” as barbaric (and very real) newsreel footage of actual incidents ratchets up the unease. The thing is, Crowe’s character is already long gone down a rabbit of rage, prescription meds and mental illness when we meet him and he only gets worse. As a frequent flyer on the Oscar bait express I admire his courage in taking the kind of terrifying, knowingly sadistic antagonist that we’d usually see the likes of Ray Liotta in. He’s beefed out, bulked up, constantly sweating, sneering, scowling, capable of shocking violence at the drop of a hat and utterly.. well, fucking unhinged. He makes the character work without much backstory or rhetoric, simply by being a bulldog off the chain causing chaos wherever he goes and since the guy even admits he’s got nothing to love for and he’s welcome suicide by cops, there’s literally no depths of violence he won’t sink to, which is quite an energy to sit with for an hour and a half. The film itself? Not gonna lie, it’s an unpleasant, nerve wracking, gratuitous, distressing, unrelentingly gruesome slice of mean spirited trash, and I’m not sure it’s the film we need at this juncture of a year already filled with suffering thus far. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on the absolute edge of my seat for most of the tight 90 minute runtime, and I gotta say this thing really works as a thriller, with Crowe being the key element. It’s noisy, immersive, scary as fuck, unforgivingly dour, excellently paced and excitingly edited, and I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen. Just don’t go for it if you’re in a bleak headspace already, because it’s quite the dose of pain.

-Nate Hill

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