Stay for Crowe who gives a performance in Unhinged that’s like a deranged rhino, or leave for the anemic plot that stands for nothing.
I’ve never been a fan of the crazed, trope-filled thriller genre that studios try to pass off as psychological — though, Russell Crowe’s performance in Unhinged is so effective and intense it elevates an anemic script that is really no better than most of the trash cinema starring Bruce Willis these days; you just wish you could lift it from the screen and place it in a better movie.
Unhinged stars Crowe as “The Man”, who is close to fifty, in poor physical shape, and obviously even worse mental health. How do we know this? Well, he is sweating profusely before he enters his old house and takes a hammer to his ex-wife and the man she is with. He also pours gasoline everywhere and begins to burn the house down. He is now on the run and Rachel (Caren Pistorius) makes the mistake of honking her horn at him when he is stopped at a green light. Her son, Kyle (Gabriel Bateman), is in the back seat, his window won’t close, and they are about to get a good old-fashioned etiquette lesson.
Unhinged was directed by Derek Borte (American Dreamer), and it has a real fever pitch and nerve-racking pace. I can’t say I wasn’t partially entertained, mostly due to the fact Crowe’s performance is the equivalent of a deranged rhino on the loose that animal control can’t reign in. He elevates the material that masquerades as psychological, but it’s really a trope-filled thriller genre that stands for nothing.
When I first heard that script was penned by Red Eye scribe Carl Ellsworth, I was excited. The meaty themes of mental health are there for the taking but are barely touched here. The action is sensationalized, and they missed a real opportunity to take a look at today’s American manhood. The simple fact is men from age 40-55 have the highest rates of depression, substance abuse issues, and suicide. The main theme though seems to be let’s, as Ellen says, be kind to one another?
The plot is anemic, the themes are bone dry, and the numerous dumb character choices are mind-boggling. Take this, for example — Pistorius’s Rachel picks up her child to go to a mass murderer’s location, or she will kill a loved one. What parent in their right mind would put their child in that kind of danger? There are several scenes that show how poorly written Rachel is that makes you want to give her an IQ or drug test. Movies like this make the female lead dumber than they have to be and Unhinged is no exception.
The final flaw is Pistorius just can’t match Crowe’s ferocious intensity and makes the duo uneven. I greatly admired Crowe’s performance here and wish the script took the time to respect the audience. I’m giving it a middling review because of it because it could have been lower. Most people may like the film if they are a fan of the genre and thrills generated by Crowe; I just hope someday we have the technology to lift his performance from Unhinged and place it in a better movie.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.