The reopening of local theaters recently began – the McHenry Outdoor was the only game in town for most of the summer. Coupled with a wonderful list of classics (for example, a little “Dirty Dancing” and the ultimate spoof film “Airplane!” at the Regal Crystal Lake Showplace), two new releases made their debut.
Knowing that going to the movies might be a little concerning, I thought I would stay with the double-feature approach. I will give you a new release, but also provide a stay-at-home choice in the same genre.
"Unhinged" (2020 – New)
Derrick Borte’s film hits on the element of road rage and takes it to the extreme. A brief exchange at a traffic light becomes the catalyst for the 90-minute movie. Considering we are all susceptible to a little anger while driving, Carl Ellsworth’s script provides a unique narrative about letting our emotions get the better of us on the road.
Academy Award winner Russell Crowe plays The Man, an unnamed character who gets honked at by Rachel (Caren Pistorius), who is running a bit behind and is a little short on patience. When they end up at another light, The Man asks for a kind apology, but doesn’t get it. Without realizing it, Rachel sets off a series of – well, quite frankly – brutal events that makes one wonder could it happen to you?
Crowe is both creepy and stoic as the lead. As we have come to expect from him, his screen presence is formidable, and the way he delivers his lines is part wounded spirit and part unstable sociopath. At times, you almost feel for him, but not enough to justify his actions. What he does to the people around Rachel is inexcusable, but the rudeness from a fellow driver does provide motivation (albeit excessive).
Caren Pistorius is believable as Rachel, which I tell my students is mostly what acting is about. You understand why she is the way she is (divorced and stressed about life) and how a momentary lapse in judgment sets off the chain of events that really makes one think.
Now, the biggest issue with the film is really its premise: road rage on steroids. We’ve all been on either side of the equation, and the movie does impart the message that you really don’t know those other drivers (or what is going on in their lives). Where the problem comes in, is really the length of the film. Ninety minutes of car chases and violent actions attached to a concept that could have been pared down to less than half an hour is more than was necessary. Sure car chases and action comprise an American cinema staple (see the “Fast and Furious” franchise), but you usually are interested in the characters and what they are doing. You really don’t feel for these characters (Rachel’s son Kyle is the only voice of reason).
Borte directs action sequences very well, this film is no exception, but they’re not held together with a strong enough plot. Had he gone for a 25-minute short film and tightened up the story, he could have left the audience breathless. Instead, the film drags through disturbing scenes that feel too over the top, and when the ending comes, the final moments leave one feeling it's just a matter of time before it happens again.
Crowe and Pistorius are good, but there is something missing in “Unhinged” – like a solid story.
"Mr. Brooks" (2007)
Now if thrillers are what you are into, a more worthwhile viewing would be Bruce Evans’ creepy “Mr. Brooks.”
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is the newly awarded Man of the Year in Portland, Oregon. A successful businessman, he is married with a daughter. He gives to charity and loves both of the women in his life, but there is one other person at play, his alter-ego Marshall (personified by Academy Award winner William Hurt). Brooks is a psychopathic serial killer, drawn by the urge to kill again. When he does, he is observed by Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), who is struck with a desire to kill too. Instead of turning him in, Smith requests Brooks’ instruction to commit murder and the two embark on an unstable alliance. At the same time, Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) is in pursuit of Brooks, only knowing him as the Thumbprint Killer.
It is a tangled web of a story that grabs the audience within the first few minutes and doesn’t let go until the end of the 120-minute run time. The acting is top-notch as one would expect from the talented cast. Often difficult to accomplish, Hurt is the internal voice in Costner's head, and the two have excellent on-screen chemistry. Their discussions reveal a lot about Brooks, his character, and how he does what he does.
Cook (known to many as a comedian) is well cast and provides a stark contrast to Costner's Brooks as the impatient apprentice. Moore does a fine job as Atwood, with a lot of baggage of her own. Marg Helgenberger and Danielle Panabaker play the wife and daughter, respectively, offering strong performances in their small, but important roles.
Now a word of caution that this film is not for the faint of heart. It is violent and deeply disturbing, with some scenes that will raise the hair on the back of your neck. The opening crime (observed by Smith) is convincingly real, which makes it extremely scary. How Brooks goes about his killing spree is also bone-chilling, for he comes off as an everyday person, with a deep, dark secret. The film is smartly written, superbly acted, and engagingly spooky. It is rated R for just about everything: violence, nudity, explicit sex and strong language. Don’t watch it with kids in the house and don’t watch it alone.
It is on Showtime.
There you have it, something new and something old for fans of the thriller genre – the at-home film does it better.
Coming attractions will look at going classic.
• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor at McHenry County College. He looks forward to resuming the role of host for the Second Monday Film Series at Classic Cinemas in Woodstock.