“Unhinged” (MA) ****
IN 1971, Steven Spielberg directed his first studio feature, a 90-minute movie called “Duel”, in which the driver of a semi-trailer prime mover pursues a businessman’s sedan with every intention of destroying him and his car.
Not many people have seen “Duel”, portending a career that few film-industry giants can match. I don’t know which of German-born director Derrick Borte or writer Carl Ellsworth or actor Russell Crowe decided to use “Duel” as the foundation for the plot of “Unhinged”.
Nor whether Spielberg had any influence on its form and content. But by any measure, it’s a powerful thriller in which 21st-century communications technology forms a major and disconcerting dramatic element in its 90 minutes run-time.
It’s not a “nice” film. Crowe plays a man (we never learn his name) beset by an awful family tragedy, who happens to be driving the pick-up truck that doesn’t move off after the light goes to green at a New Orleans intersection.
Until that point, the film has been making a plangent observation of big-city morning traffic as Rachel (Caren Pistorius) like any good mom in modern-day America is driving her early-teenage son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school.
That exercise in futility, occupying several minutes, develops a sense of Rachel’s driving ineptitude that brought me close to frustrated laughter.
But it had a purpose, because Rachel finds herself immediately behind the man when the light turns to green. Rachel gives him a long blast on her car’s horn. And that triggers the rest of the film’s full-on action.
Is “Unhinged” worth your patronage? Like all movie choices, it depends on what you want. From this point, it’s automotive mayhem, bad-mannered road rage, unrestrained fender-bending and mild frustration arising out of Rachel’s failure to head for the closest cop shop to get help.
The Internet Movie Database puts its estimated cost at $US30 million. Most of that would have gone on buying cars for wrecking and getting the city’s co-operation in setting up some major tail-backs.
I left “Unhinged” feeling that it wasted Russell Crowe’s capabilities, which in a perverse way gave the film strength while sending no message other than pulling no punches about bad driving habits.
At Dendy, Palace Electric and Hoyts