Since I was a teenager, I’ve been to the cinema every week of my life, bar none, no exceptions. That streak ended unceremoniously with Onwards in March 2020; the virus lockdown put paid to any notions of big-screen entertainment for a five month period. And now we have a chicken and egg problem to resolve; cinemas can’t re-open without product, and big movies won’t be released until potential audiences are ready and willing to return. The longer the stalemate goes on, the more eroded cinema-going habits become.
So hats off to Altitude for getting Unhinged on the big screen where it belongs, and sorting a UK press show for this Russell Crowe action movie. Unhinged is a short, punchy, unpretentious thriller in the vein of The Hitcher or Night of the Juggler with a beefy villainous role for the Aussie star, tonnes of vehicular mayhem, and a tight little B-movie story that delivers the goods. Perhaps I was softened up by my long-absence from the aisles, but watching Unhinged left me feeling weak at the knees in the way that going to the cinema did as a kid, when you’d stumble back out into the daylight shielding your eyes, still in shock and awe at what you’d just seen.
In director Derrick Borte’s film, Crowe plays Tom Hunter, a truck-driving New Orleans bad-ass who is introduced in the throes of a brutal murder and arson attempt. He’s a fully-qualified maniac with a chip on each shoulder, and when Rachel (Karen Pistorius) in unfortunate enough to blast him with her car-horn when he’s slow to react to a traffic-light change, Hunter decides to teach her a lesson she won’t forget. Hunter goes after her, and her family, full-throttle, in a road-rage-times-ten reign of terror.
I’m generally fussy about action films promising more than they deliver, but Unhinged gets the mix right; Carl Ellsworth’s script mines a sordid seam somewhere between Changing Lanes and Duel, but without too much of the social commentary of the former or the mysticism of the later. Instead, it’s straight-up race-and-chase, with Pistorius doing well as an empathetic heroine, and Crowe a consistently menacing presence.
Crowe requires no bona fides as an actor, he’s been great in movies like The Nice Guys and established himself as a director with The Water Diviner. He’s someone who has felt the weight of the world’s prurient interest in him; I remember watching him holding a press-conference for Cinderella Man in which pretty much every question related to a tabloid story about him throwing a phone in a hotel lobby. Such intrusive, irrelevant questioning would justify any amount of outrage, but Crowe calmly navigated the idiocy with some grace; he’d have been quite justified in lobbing phones at the heads of all the idiot journalists involved. Here, Crowe taps into the silent fury of a disconnected man who seeks to correct something about a world he perceives as having gone mad.
Tom Hunter’s unique brand of madness makes him a great villain, and provides just the right centre for Unhinged to deliver in off-the-hook action and urban thrills. It won’t trouble the Academy, it was never intended to, but there’s a long road back for cinema, and it starts here right here with a bang and a screech of tyres.
Unhinged opens in select UK cinemas from July 31st 2020. Thanks to Altitude and the FDA for early access to this film.