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Review: 'Unhinged' (2020) Dir. Derrick Borte

Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P. McKenzie and Michael Papajohn


One of the first major releases during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, this dark thriller presents Russell Crowe in a far different light to what we are used to seeing him in...

During the New Orleans rush hour, single parent Rachel (Pistorius) drives her son Kyle (Bateman) to school. After crossing paths with a stranger (Crowe) at an intersection and expressing road rage, she becomes a target.

The man, Tom Cooper, is suffering with severe mental health issues and fixates on Rachel, tormenting her and stalking her in pursuit of an apology for their incident at the intersection.

But Tom is a very dangerous man with nothing to lose, and those closest to Rachel all become targets in his violent, volatile vendetta. Time is ticking away and the danger is rising for Rachel as Tom starts to show just how unhinged he really is...

At just 80mins long, you know what you're going to get from this short, sharp exploration of the dark side to a human psyche. No frills, no attempt at major exposition, just character driven drama and danger. Opening with the husky, deep breathing from a bearded and bloated Russell Crowe amidst the pouring night-time rain, he necks a handful of pills while sat in his car and throws his wedding ring away. Stepping out without a care in the world, he saunters over to a house with a can of fuel, smashes down the door with a hammer and begins to bludgeon the family inside before burning the home to the ground.

Partnered with a pulsating, intense score by David Buckley and Crowe's violent, volatile and unpredictable sudden introduction, and all under four minutes, this is the sort of film that wastes no time getting you sucked in. We are treating to a credit sequence by director Derrick Borte that sets out humanity today in the society we live in: job losses, aggression, violence, riots, social media stress, infidelity, mental health. Even the little things like bad traffic, irritating colleagues, broken families...it feels like a modern take on the Michael Douglas character study Falling Down. A man and family pushed to the limit by the society they are surrounded by makes for some real tense situations.

Russell Crowe has a glint in his eye that makes him nothing but menacing. He's transformed himself in a less than physically fit way, and proves just how strong an actor he is.

Crowe is absorbing as Tom Cooper, a man who comes across Rachel and Kyle, played wonderfully by Caren Pistorius and Gabriel Bateman. After an altercation at an intersection during rush-hour, the mother and son become involved with the imposing Cooper in a way you just don't want from an aggressive and foul-mouthed stranger out to prove a very personal and violent point.

With a dark grey pick-up truck that thunders and growls along the road, Crowe is a brilliantly imposing villain, getting under the skin of Pistorius from the outset. Along with some impressive car chases during busy streets, the drama and tension is high and never really settles. It's solid enough in the familiar and simple premise of having a stalker invade your life without taking big risks in the genre to be something different. Thanks to Crowe's magnetic, unhinged (intentional!) performance, you just can't help be fixated on what he will do next in his quest for a simple apology. He's a man with a motive, but just what is it and why.

Caren Pistorius is equally wonderful as the fragile Rachel picked out by Cooper as his target. She's a mother, a daughter and a friend, and all those close to her become involved in the cat-and-mouse game all played out around the suburbs of New Orleans to teach her a lesson of manners and respect in a very dangerous world. Watching her world fall apart is nail-biting stuff, and with the fact there is nothing and nobody Cooper won't harm to get to her, it's often unsettling viewing at times and you just want to know why he is why he is.

Director Borte only needs to rely on his two strong leads to lay out the foundations of who they are, and then bring them together for a dangerous, brutal and chilling ride with no room for dark humour with the cold violence dished out by an even colder Crowe who is perfect as the focus of this character study.

The moral of this story? Don't. Forget. The. Courtesy. Tap.

A very familiar genre to play in, but Borte has a quality cast to lead the story that holds no punches with it's chilling, cold and often tense content.

'Unhinged is a co-production between Ingenious Media and Burek Films

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