UNHINGED

Cert 15 Stars 4

Russell Crowe rampages back into cinemas in this brutal road rage thriller which courts controversy by offering sympathy for his maniac character who drives the action.

The Oscar winning star of Gladiator is one of my favourite actors and he delivers a double-barrelled performance as Tom, a regular guy who’s suffering a breakdown of the nervous variety, and who begins a campaign of terror against a fellow motorist who impatiently beeps at Tom on the morning school run and refuses to apologise when Tom asks her to.

This sly attempt at victim-blaming by the script is an attempt to lure us into a moral trap by encouraging us to sympathise with Tom, a self-pitying brute and the manifestation of the frothing anger of a certain type of disenfranchised middle-aged blue collar bloke.

The relatively unknown actress Caren Pistorius is equally great as the single mother subject to Tom’s violent fury and she’s given a brilliantly funny killer line which will probably define her career.

And the moral waters are further muddied by her realistic flaws such using her phone while she drives, meanwhile Tom uses smartphone tech to target her family and friends en route to kidnap, arson and some serious vehicle damage.

With a career-long appetite for meaty roles which allow him to chew the scenery, Crowe now appears to be twice the man he used to be, and his enormous bulk provides a Terminator-like imperviousness during Tom’s remorseless pursuit.

Tom’s such a relentless and magnificent monster this almost qualifies as a horror film, and it can be parked alongside Michael Douglas’s 1993 classic Falling Down for its mix of topical social commentary and terrific popcorn thrills.

Unhinged was a great re-introduction to cinema on my first trip since lockdown and as part of a safe and socially distanced audience it was brilliant to once again experience the unique excitement of watching films on the big screen.

 

THE FANATIC

Cert 18 Stars 1

In the wake of the tragic death of John Travolta’ wife Kelly Preston it seems desperately cruel to pan his latest film, but this thriller where he plays an obsessed fan who kidnaps his favourite actor, is sadly hide-behind-the-sofa terrible in every aspect.

It’s misconceived on an epic level by writer and director Fred Durst, better known as frontman of Florida rap-rock band Limp Bizkit.

This isn’t the worst performance I’ve seen of Travolta’s in the last couple of years, and I firmly believe and hope he still has at least one more glorious comeback left in him

GHOSTS OF WAR

Cert 15 Stars 3

Scares and shoot-outs are well-balanced in this Second World War haunted house horror influenced by the work of lauded sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein and his speculative ideas of future military technology.

Brenton Thwaites plays the fresh-faced leader of a five-strong squad who’s pleased to be ordered to defend a deserted French chateau, and it’s only after a fierce battle with a passing German platoon events become weird, beginning with their field radio seemingly picking up signals from beyond the grave.

Sadly old-school special effects slowly give way to glossy CGI, and fans of Hollywood’s forgotten man Billy Zane, will be disappointed at his lack of screen time.

The script speaks to humanity’s ageless appetite for warfare and though it flags up the idea the Second World War represents a moral high ground in comparison all subsequent wars are found wanting, it fails to give itself adequate time to explore it.

But for the most part this offers pretty effective entrainment, with the main actors putting in a shift among the bloody and sometimes brutal action which is choreographed in a shoot ’em up video game stylee.

 

ARKANSAS

Cert 15 Stars 3

Vince Vaughn once again demonstrates he’s so much better when not trying to be funny in this meandering hard boiled modern day thriller based on the novel by John Brandon, which digs deep into the American dream and comes out covered in nihilism, filth and death.

With a brawny menacing charm Vaughn plays a mysterious and ruthless gangster called ‘Frog’ who’s based in rural Arkansas, where the crime is more disorganised rather than otherwise.

He becomes involved with a pair of non-too clever low level drug dealers who are struggling to dispose of a couple of cadavers and events spiral out of control.

The dimwitted duo are played by Liam Hemsworth and Clark Duke, the latter miscasting himself in his directorial debut as the overly confident and talkative ‘brains’ of the operation.

Although Duke struggles with meshing the comic moments and the violence, he succeeds in obtaining some entertaining performances from his cast which includes Michael Kenneth Williams, Vivica A. Fox and John Malkovich as a far from clean cop.

BURDEN

Cert 15 Stars 3

Racism, rednecks and repentance are the key ingredients in this earnest drama based on a true story from South Carolina in 1996.

Garrett Hedlund is unrecognisable from his biggest role in sci-fi action Tron: Legacy, and stars as violent bigot Mike Burden who falls for Judy, an impoverished single mother, who awakens in him a desire for a better life away from the Klan.

This is much to the disgust of his mentor at the localĀ  Ku Klux Klan, who’s played with avuncular intimidation by Brit actor Tom Wilkinson.

Geordie actress Andrea Riseborough is a magnetic presence full of integrity and conviction as Judy, easily overshadowing her scowling, mumbling co-star.

One time Oscar winner Forest Whitaker brings dignified conviction to his impassioned and softly spoken role as Reverend David Kennedy who preaches peaceful protest as he attempts to save a sinner.

Although there’s no shying away from hatred and brutality, and scenes of assault are necessarily upsetting, as a drama Burden treads a well worn path, is a tad over-sentimental and doesn’t reach the Oscar-worthy levels of redemption it aims for.

BLACK WATER: ABYSS

Cert 15 Stars 4

Cinemas reopen with a big bite of adventure as a killer crocodile goes on the rampage in this brisk, tense and claustrophobic action thriller which delivers a torrent of terror and no-nonsense popcorn thrills.

Featuring everything I find most terrifying in nature such as small spaces, deep water, hungry predators and angry Australian women, it sees five attractive young holiday-makers explore a remote cavern under the wild forests of Northern Australia.

But a tropical storm cause the cave system to flood and traps them beside a subterranean lake with a rising water level, and they realise they must play chicken with a croc if they want to survive.

Four of the cast have served time on Aussie TV in either Neighbours and Home and Away, and top billed Jessica McNamee featured in Jason Statham’s giant shark thriller, The Meg, and as well as experience of underwater on screen peril she brings a fierce determination.

All of the actors put in a shift forced to spend most of the time in the dark, wet and cold, and dealing with a pregnancy subplot which is pure soap opera, and that’s ok as this is a movie where the fun is all about guessing who gets eaten next.

‘Don’t splash’ is about the best of their limited survival knowledge, and they kindly make jokes about Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee, so I don’t have to.

Director Andrew Traucki was responsible for 2007’s Black Water which also featured a vicious croc, and also 2010’s killer shark flick The Reef, so he’s definitely on solid ground when filming in the water.

Making a virtue of his lean concept Traucki keeps up a decent rate of knots and sensibly keeps the croc at a menacing distance or up close and very personal, and this is a good fit with last year’s croc shocker Crawl, or 2016 shark thriller, The Shallows.

With preview screenings tomorrow {Saturday} it’s on release from next Friday.

INHERITANCE

Cert 15 Stars 3

Simon Pegg and Lily Collins star in this enjoyably preposterous US thriller which sees Collins play Lauren, a principled New York attorney who’s horrified to discover a prisoner in an underground bunker on her family’s estate.

Played with a wounded, grubby and gleeful menace by Pegg, the captive seems to know all about Lauren’s recently deceased father and offers to trade the truth for a juicy steak, some chocolate and a cigarette.

Lauren can’t call the police as a scandal would ruin her highflying career and that of her smoothly amoral congressman brother who’s running for re-election.

The pair’s exchanges deliberately echo scenes in 1991 cannibal horror Silence of the Lambs, and though the pair are decent neither are a patch on the Oscar winning stars of that classic. Anthony Hopkins in particular would have Pegg for breakfast.

Mind you as he whispers and growls in an American accent, Pegg’s presence lifts the quality of the film which suffers a noticeable dip in energy and interest whenever he’s absent. I haven’t enjoyed a performance of Pegg’s this much for years.

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET

Cert 15 Stars 3

There’s a calm chilly elegance to this diverting German language psychological thriller which sees director Marie Kreutzer give us two Hitchcock blondes for the price of one, and asks questions as to the nature of obsessive behaviour, the definition of madness and the possibility of total honesty in relationships.

Valerie Pachner and Mavie Horbiger star as Lola and Elise, near identical icily glamorous corporate executives and lovers, whose relationship is threatened when the erratic behaviour of Lola’s sister becomes increasingly wild and begins to affect Lola’s carefully controlled life, causes her to doubt her own sanity.

ENEMY LINES

Cert 15 Stars 3

Opening titles of real war footage set a chilly and sombre tone to this respectful and effective Second World War action adventure is a by-the-numbers boys’ own adventure lifted by its great locations and a hard working cast.

John Hannah keeps a stiff upper lip as the British Army liaison officer back in Blighty as English actor Ed Westwick stars as a square-jawed US Major leading a team of British commandos to extract an important scientist from the hands of the Germans in Nazi-occupied Poland of 1943.

Of course plans go awry, radios don’t work, they can’t identify which locals are collaborators, and the Russian army who are much more used to fighting in the bleak snow covered landscape, are also the same target.

There’s plenty of courage and sacrifice among the many shoot-outs, and the fierce and the excitingly staged three-way battle of foreign troops on Polish soil to determine ownership of Polish resources, can be read as a scathing view of the war.

THE ASSISTANT

Cert 15 Stars 4

A claustrophobic and chilling exploration of workplace exploitation, this small scale precision-crafted drama moves through a murk of whispers, collusion and paranoia to explain how the sexual abuse which resulted in the #MeToo campaign was able to continue for so long.

Jane is a hard working office admin assistant tasked with organising hotels and flights for a Hollywood mogul, and begins to suspect a new young female employee who is a very attractive but utterly unqualified is being sexually abused.

But Jane soon finds herself caught between the career price to be paid for whistleblowing, and the personal price for keeping quiet.

Julia Garner is best known as the combative and foul mouthed curly haired casino manager in the Netflix series Ozark, but is radically more unassuming, fragile and sweet as Jane.

And fresh from his brilliant performance as the ‘Coughing Major’ on TV’s dramatisation, Quiz, Brit actor Matthew Macfadyen is quietly and horribly manipulative as her complicit office manager.