“Unhinged” is the title of the movie, and unhinged pretty much says it all. A brutal action flick that’s running on ugly from start to finish, the film from director Derrick Borte flirts with having something to say about stressful, angry times and toxic masculinity, but settles for letting Russell Crowe glower, seethe and leave a whole lotta destruction in his gruesome wake.
You’d like to think that a movie like this can be a fun, dark and bloody thrill ride, as recent coronavirus-era releases like “Extraction,” “The Old Guard” and even “Project Power” (like this one, shot in New Orleans) have been to varying degrees. But there’s not much fun to be found here, and Crowe is not the kind of actor who’d be caught dead winking at the camera, even if he’s playing a cartoonishly indestructible villain identified only as “the Man.”
We meet him sitting in his pickup truck on a rainy night, rubbing his forehead and then gobbling down what we take to be pain pills. For a few seconds, that might be enough for us to have a little sympathy for the guy – but then he grabs an axe, shreds the door of a suburban house, takes the axe to a couple of its occupants and then burns the house down.
In other words, he’s a psychopathic monster even before the opening credits roll, and there’s nothing left for him to do but to keep it up until somebody stops him. And while those credits arrive complete with a montage of news footage showing just how angry everyone is these days, we can hardly think that the man we’ve just seem commit a couple of murders with a side of arson is any kind of symptom of our times.
Beefy and deadly, Crowe dominates the film – but its hero is Rachel (Caren Pistorius), a young divorced mother who is scattered and stressed, who doesn’t have a locking code on her phone, whose son and brother like video games and who can’t find her candy-cane scissors. (By the way, pretty much every single thing she talks about in her first 20 minutes on screen will come into play later on.)
Impatient at a stoplight because she’s late getting her son to school and she’s just lost her job because of her perpetual tardiness, she makes the mistake of leaning on her horn when the pickup truck in front of her doesn’t move when the light turns green. The driver catches up to her at a subsequent light – yep, it’s the Man – and asks why she didn’t give her horn “a courtesy tap” first. But Rachel’s in no mood to make nice, so she tells him that she’s had a bad day and isn’t about to apologize.
And that turns out to be a big mistake, because the Man announces that he’s going to show her what a bad day really is. This, it turns out, will involve following her, stealing that unlocked phone and killing a lot of people around her, with a few accident-strewn car chases thrown in for good measure.
If there’s a chance for this film to highlight the collateral damage caused by his havoc, both in lives and property, it will leap at it. But then, nothing is tempered or restrained about the action, as the Man grows more sadistic as the day goes on, and also seemingly luckier. How else can you explain the fact that he can commit the most gruesome deeds in public, in front of witnesses, and still manage to walk, not run, away from the police who are pursuing him (and even sometimes shooting him)?
We learn more about the guy along the way – he went through a very bad divorce, for one thing, and he was fired from his job at an auto plant just shy of getting his pension – but the details are almost irrelevant; it’s certainly not as if he can excuse or explain what he’s doing by saying, “I’ve been chewed up and spit out. I’ll make my contribution … with retribution, because that’s all I’ve got left.”
And all Rachel’s got left is to fight back, which she does in a way that is sometimes ridiculous and occasionally satisfying. There’s certainly energy and tension in “Unhinged,” and Crowe throws himself into the whole bloody enterprise with gusto. As a film that’s headed to theaters rather than VOD, it supplies some of the thrills that might draw people to cinemas, though it’s hard to imagine that too many people will think it’s worth the risk to sit in a room for 90 minutes breathing other people’s air and Crowe’s venom.
Can you find echoes of the frustration and anger that course through our current society in the film? Sure, if you look for them. Can you tie this into themes of toxic masculinity and white privilege? I suppose. But at its heart, this is a brutal movie about a guy who’s such a singular psychopath that it’s hard to see him as deserving of a larger conversation. Really, it’s just a story of a guy who’s unhinged.