Thursday, August 20, 2020

Russell Crowe rages in 'Unhinged'

Russell Crowe always interests me, even when I’m unenthusiastic about the movies in which he appears. That’s certainly the case with Unhinged, which seems less a fully developed movie than a 90-minute expression of uncontainable rage.
     Having put on some pounds (who hasn’t?), Crowe portrays a nameless man who makes his first appearance on screen by smashing in the door of a Los Angeles home and beating at least one of the occupants to death with a hammer that looks as if came from lethal weapons aisle of the hardware store.
     Not content with such startling violence, 
The Man -- as he's referred to in the credits -- sets the whole place on fire.
    Aside from the fact that this is not a guy you’d want to invite over for drinks, you'll quickly understand that Unhinged plans to barrel through scenarios that build on quickly sketched urban aggravations: gridlocked traffic, single-mom frustrations (more on this as we go) and, the rage that ordinary people can develop when they find themselves behind the wheel of a car.
    Director Derek Borte arrives at the launching point of his drama when a young woman (Caren Pistorious) becomes irritated. Already late taking her son (Gabriel Bateman) to school, Pistorius's Rachel winds up at a red light behind the pick-up truck  The Man is driving.
    In movies, a big pick-up driven by a big, bearded man might as well have a personalized license plate that reads, "Ominous."
    When the pick-up doesn't move quickly enough to keep Rachel from fuming at having to sit through another red light, she leans on her horn instead of offering what The Man calls "a courtesy tap."
    The issue of “courtesy taps” sounds like something that might fuel an entire episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm but that doesn't mean a movie as single-minded as Unhinged brims with creative possibilities.
    As the movie proceeds, Borte creates wincingly effective car chases, putting the violent pedal to the brutal metal:  Crowe's character evidently likes to set things and people on fire and he believes it's his job to teach Rachel a lesson.
    Unlike Falling Down, a similar movie that starred Michael Douglas and which was directed by the late Joel Schumacher, Unhinged isn't about a character who seems to have been bred by the cumulative frustrations of a dysfunctional society.   
   He's not an everyman who has lost his moorings. He's a monster who's waiting to spill his anger on the first available target. I wondered, though, how Unhinged might have looked had Crowe's madman gotten into a road-rage conflict with man.   
     Too often we excuse Hollywood’s worst excesses by putting a B-movie stamp on a film. We argue that a movie such as Unhinged isn’t supposed to do much more than leaves us gasping at its sneering audacity. 
      Motivations, even suggestions that the demented firestorm at the center of Unhinged may be brooding over a divorce, are beside the point.
     But movies also connect to the moments in which they appear and a movie about rage might be the last thing we need at the moment, particularly one as streamlined and unremitting as Unhinged.

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