Film review: ‘UNHINGED’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Unhinged sounds like the title of a typical 80s video nasty designed to exploit fears of the mentally ill.  While much slicker and a little more thoughtful than those VHS trash-fests, this tense and at times gruesomely violent road rage thriller occasionally veers into that same pulpy territory.

The film establishes its threatening scenario in an unnerving opening credits sequence composed of news fragments depicting volatile Americans constantly erupting into street violence. It’s from this world that imposing figure of Tom Cooper (Russell Crowe) emerges. An obese shambling bear of a man whose disturbed mental state is apparent when he commits an early act of appalling violence against his ex-wife.  Unfortunately,  crossing his path is young single mother Rachael (Redfern Now’s Caren Pistorius) who, while running late, justifiably blasts her car horn at him at an intersection. Incensed by this, Cooper launches into a maniacal Ahab-like quest to torment her and make her pay for all the imagined injustices in his life. His brutal stalking and road rage pursuit of Rachael result in a trail of bodies and a Mad Max film’s worth of mangled car wrecks.

Rusty’s character Tom Cooper is very far from the lean fighting machine we saw in Gladiator but no less destructive.  Not only is he hideously violent but extremely sneaky and someone who loves torturing his victims psychologically as well as physically. While Rusty’s grunting, growling and grimacing performance is at times comically over the top, his volcano-like temperament and shape make him a convincingly intimidating figure.  Carping about the way the world has mistreated him, Cooper embodies embittered white male privilege although the script allows him none of the sly humour of Michael Douglas’ vaguely similar character in 1993’s Falling Down.

As the embattled Rachael, Caren Pistorius is mostly believable and sympathetic (despite looking at her phone while she’s driving) but she’s essentially playing the same vulnerable but feisty female character seen in any number of midday movie revenge thrillers.

Clearly trying to evoke Steven Spielberg’s Duel, director Derrick Borte does a reasonable of squeezing the tension and a relentless sense of threat from a pretty limited scenario.  The car chase sequences are dynamic and given that Crowe’s driving a pick-up truck that’s as big as a bus, quite threatening.

Borte and scriptwriter Carl Ellsworth briefly attempt to introduce some form of social commentary, including structuring events around the modern malaise of our technology and mobile phone addiction but they don’t delve into topics like these deeply enough; they seem more interested in showing a big, angry nut killing people.

In the end, Unhinged offers some visceral thrills but little in the way of psychological depth making it a briefly enjoyable piece of fast-food cinema.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Thriller.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Derrick Borte.

Release date: 5th Nov 2020.

Running time: 91 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.

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