Unhinged

In Unhinged, an almost unrecognizably overweight Russell Crowe stars as a deranged assailant in pursuit of a young mother who honks at him when he fails to proceed at a green traffic light. Granted, she lays on the horn hard three times and he sits through the entire light. Road rage ensues, but quickly becomes something far more sinister.

Consider this film a cross between Falling Down and Duel. Although not all of the action is in vehicles, much of it takes place behind the wheel. A staccato tap, tap, tap, tap musical/mechanical score during a relentless pursuit accompanies the action, similar to Duel and eventually you expect Rachel’s station wagon to start smoking and breaking down, just like Dennis Weaver’s car did on a long uphill climb.

If Crowe gained a ton of weight for this script I feel bad for him. It wasn’t worth the pain and suffering he’ll endure if he wants to trim down. He does a great job of playing a deranged killer, but the script has numerous flaws, mostly in the frightened female victim’s logic. After so many recent films in which women leverage their strength, intellect and cunning it seems this script returns us to a time in which helpless females were victimized by a big, bad man, though she does have a plan thanks to her Fortnite-playing son.

Just a few of the lessons we learn between scenes of graphic torture and highway carnage:

1.     Control your emotions in traffic,

2.     Say you’re sorry convincingly, even if you don’t feel the need,

3.     Don’t put on mascara while driving,

4.     Take your phone with you when you pay for gas,

5.     A phone without a screen lock is asking for trouble,

6.     Call the police instead of trying to outwit a lunatic,

7.     Never negotiate or follow a psychopath’s instructions.

Caren Pistorius plays Rachel, the woman who drives a red station wagon with lots of warning lights illuminated. She allows her busy life to get in the way of her busy life, oversleeping and losing her biggest client, letting her gas tank run down to empty and other avoidable actions on a day when everything has consequences. Pistorius does the best she can with a somewhat corny script, but she just can’t seem to find a breakout film. This one surely won’t be it.

Director Derrick Borte has six unremarkable films to his credit in twelve years. The opening scene in Unhinged is solely for the purpose of establishing Crowe’s unstable, violent behavior, I guess so that we understand when he next “unhinges” we’ll know what he’s capable of doing. But when Michael Douglas comes unglued in 1993’s Falling Down, you almost feel for him. That one is a much better film.

The opening scenes in Unhinged are a compilation of news stories, some of which appear to be actual footage of our stress-filled and chaotic current events. This sets up the film’s premise but then takes it to a completely insane next level, sort of like Fortnite.

The anxiety first felt when Rachel is targeted eventually fades when her actions and those of her pursuer become clearly unreasonable. Reaction to Rachel’s decision-making border on those experienced in teen slasher movies where you find yourself asking, “Why is she doing that? No, don’t go alone into the dark kitchen filled with knives.”

This pandemic-delayed film is mercifully short and has an estimated budget of $33 million with global opening weekend receipts of $23 million. They may make money on this thanks to Crowe’s power to draw crowds.

 

Unhinged (2019) runs 1 hour, 30 minutes and is rated R.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Those who may be mistakenly drawn to this film as fans of the magician David Copperfield will be disappointed. But as a huge Charles Dickens fan, it was a must see as soon as I heard it was released. It was also our first time venturing out to a theater since about February. I’m happy to report that the experience was safe and sanitary. Being virtually the only two people in the theater helped a lot. Contactless ticketing and concessions, masks, gloves, cleaning between features and social distancing were all in play.

So, a brief note about the magician we’ve unfortunately all come to know better perhaps than this classic character from Dickens’ own favorite and most successful book. Magician David Seth Kotkin changed his name to the Charles Dickens character David Copperfield because he liked the sound of it. The book is magical, but that’s about all the two have in common.

Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire plays David alongside several other memorable cast members. Not least of these, and a real treat to see them onscreen together, are Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber and Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick. Capaldi is known primarily from his television portfolio, with 46 episodes as a recent Dr. Who incarnation, and Laurie we know of course from 176 episodes of House, sans English accent, and much other television work. The two could have easily exchanged the quirky roles they played in this film. Both were a delight.

This modernized take on Dickens’ enhanced autobiography is his own coming of age story. It takes us from his birth to middle age, with memorable characters and events that became fodder for his eventual writing career. The director explored young Copperfield’s brilliant and inquisitive mind dissecting and jotting down bits of idiosyncratic comments and capturing differences in dialect among those around him. Casting of this movie is interestingly diverse. Copperfield is Indian and several traditionally white characters are Black. After a very brief bit of confusion you settle right into the acting and accept the portrayal without regard to race, which is nice.

Perfectly cast as the character Uriah Heep is Ben Whishaw who has played everything from Q in recent Bond films to Melville in The Heart of the Sea and the voice of Paddington the bear. Critics have called him one of the best actors of his generation. He is a sniveling, falsely humble and insincere antagonist to the extreme. Those who think Copperfield is a magician may think Heep is a rock band. Nope, but great choice of name.

It’s been a long time since I read David Copperfield, but this movie makes me want to read it again. There are numerous comedic threads running throughout the story that make it a fun and richly British period piece set in the mid 1800s. The opening scene has an adult Dickens reading his tale to an auditorium filled with admiring listeners. For a brief period, the public speaking engagements of Dickens and Mark Twain overlapped. Amazingly, though Twain was a great admirer of Dickens, and they were once in the same room, they never met. What a dream it would be to hear either one perform.

One other note: the actual title of the book was The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery.

 

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019) runs 1 hour, 59 minutes and is rated PG. 

No Time to Die

We saw the long-awaited James Bond film recently. And not surprisingly, I began this review with the wrong title, not that it matters. The f...