("Unhinged," Rated R)
*** out of **** (three out of four stars)
After five excruciatingly long months, a feature film is being released in the United States which will only be available to watch in brick and mortar movie theaters.
Some will interpret this as an attempt to return to some form of normalcy while others will consider it a huge, perhaps life-threatening fool’s errand.
For everyone else — those who rarely went to movie theaters in the first place — it will be greeted with huge indifference.
For someone who hasn’t been to a theater since March, seeing it in a sparsely-attended press screening in Atlanta was at once a surreal, eerie, exhilarating, and liberating experience.
Not to be confused with other movies from 1982, 2017 and 2018 with the exact same title, the 2020 "Unhinged" isn’t the ideal first post-COVID-19 movie, but it's a painfully accurate reflection of life for anyone who, even in today’s quarantined times, drives a car.
If you are or don’t know someone who doesn’t have some degree of "road rage," however minute, you are in the minority and for that reason alone, "Unhinged" will hit home with the force of a sledgehammer.
Let’s start with the (minor) bad news first.
The opening scene showing Tom (Russell Crowe) doing something very stupid would have worked far better had it showed up halfway through via flashback.
Regardless of the circumstances, what Tom does makes him the immediate antagonist, virtually unable to generate audience sympathy or empathy.
On the upside, it’s a perfect counterpoint to a scene in "The Shawshank Redemption"when Tim Robbins’ character doesn’t commit murder.
As an exploitation action/thriller some would label as "cable-grade," "Unhinged" contains impressive levels of subtle and time-saving narrative shorthand.
After a somewhat mundane second scene, screenwriter Carl Ellsworth ("Red Eye," 2002) delivers one clever twist after another and lifts the story above what could have otherwise been just a formulaic cat-and-mouse "B-film."
In her quest to get her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school, the perpetually late, soon-to-be-divorced Rachel (Caren Pistoriousthink Alyssa Milano with actual acting talent) decides to get off the jammed freeway and try her luck on side streets.
Her frustration hits critical mass when the truck driven by Tom sits through a green light. She lays on the horn, goes around him while making an unfriendly gesture, not considering any kind of fallout.
Seconds later, Tom engages her in cordial dialogue, attempting to patch things up and maybe get her to apologize, but Rachel will have none of it, despite multiple pleas from Kyle to make nice and just let it go. From this point forward — thanks mostly to his ingenious use of cell phones — Tom lives in Rachel’s head rent free.
Containing elements of ("Cape Fear," 1991), ("Joy Ride," 2001), (Changing Lanes," 2002), ("Falling Down,"1993), and especially Steven Spielberg’s feature debut "Duel" (1971), director Derrick Borte ("The Joneses," 2009) delivers some truly innovative chase scenes which rival those seen in the "Fast and Furious" franchise.
Rarely relying on the type of whiplash, slice-and-dice editing which usually results in audio/visual viewer overload, Borte employs action as another ingredient, not the main course.
Making his outlaw character from "3:10 to Yuma" (2007) seem kind and tame by comparison, Crowe’s portly and disheveled Tom is a driven and remorseless psychopath, utterly without quarter or having any fear of consequence.
Raising his voice only a few times, Tom’s menace is mostly projected with mechanical, shark-like dead eyes, reminiscent to the half-dozen murder scenes involving James Gandolfini’s Tony character in "The Sopranos," (orignially on HBO).
Currently the number one movie in 10 countries spread out over five continents, "Unhinged" is the first feature release from upstart distributor Solstice Studios, a new kid on the block looking to rattle the cages of the big boy establishment who have remained inert for the last five months. If for no other reason, "Unhinged" will go down in history as the movie which finally broke the theatrical log jam.
Life offers many risks, many of which are unavoidable. The starting point for moving forward and getting on with our lives in the post-COVID-19 world will be different for everyone. If you are at all worried about watching "Unhinged" in a theater, stay home and wait for the home video release (likely in late fall). You and those choosing to attend will both be better off. The same goes for those on the fence. If in doubt, just stay put and have another doughnut. Whatever your choice, please don’t belittle or shame those who are exercising theirs.
"Unhinged" is now playing exclusively in movie theaters across the land.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here."
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