’Needlessly unpleasant, abrasively stressful but, at the same time, oddly monotonous’
Dir. Derrick Borte. US. 2020. 90mins
A minor disagreement about car horn etiquette spirals into a murderous rampage and enough rage to fill every road in North America in this relentless cat-and-mouse thriller starring Russell Crowe. Beleaguered single mum Rachel (Caren Pistorius) just lost her job and found out that her ex-husband is petitioning to take her house. But her bad day pales next to that of ‘The Man’ (Crowe), who has already claw-hammered his ex-wife to death and torched her home, and it’s barely breakfast time.
There is no question that the natural home for this picture is in the cinema.
Needlessly unpleasant, abrasively stressful but, at the same time, oddly monotonous: in some ways, this truly is a movie tailor-made for the times in which we find ourselves. With its jumpy lurches of shocking violence and spectacularly destructive vehicle stunt driving, there is no question that the natural home for this picture is in the cinema, preferably with as rowdy and as vocal an audience as possible.
The film is being marketed as the first major theatrical release since Covid-19 closed the cinemas back in March. But it remains to be seen whether this stewing, savage indictment of society’s inability to adequately manage stress will be the cathartic blast that audiences need right now, or whether the already bruised collective psyche will require a gentler hand to coax it back into cinemas.
Crowe certainly makes for a formidable villain. Sound design which accentuates his raspy breathing and liverish lighting which picks out a patina of sweat and disappointment suggests a man who lacks social graces, even before he commits his first double murder of the day. But once he crosses paths with Rachel, she becomes the focus of a lifetime’s worth of fury. Huge, unstoppable, aggrieved: Crowe plays the character as a blend of Michael Douglas in Falling Down and the juggernaut in Steven Spielberg’s Duel.
But while The Man (the character is never named) might seem like a natural addition to the disaffected everyman-goes-rogue genre, the screenplay opts not to engineer any audience empathy for him. He is pure unfiltered evil on wheels. The result is daunting, but the lack of complexity does seem a waste of Crowe’s talents.
Shot on location in Louisiana, the film makes use of a sprawl of elevated freeways, with car chases on the congested thoroughfares and on the service roads that track underneath, through the concrete skeleton that supports the roads above. But for a film which relies so heavily on the car-chase elements, there’s a lack of variety in the way they are filmed. Director Borte leans heavily on shots of Pistorious’ panicked face and Crowe’s meaty fists struggling with the child-proof caps on his (evidently ineffective) medication. The chases themselves are workmanlike but rarely as thrilling as they might be.
And this is an issue – The Man’s violence is grimly effective in execution, but it’s thoroughly dispiriting in its casual nastiness. The car chases should be the escapist, high-octane fun part of the movie. But fun is in short supply in a picture which is fuelled by a full tank of ill-will and fury.
Production companies: Solstice Studios, Ingenious Media
International sales: Solstice Studios
Producers: Lisa Ellzey, Mark Gill, Andrew Gunn
Screenplay: Carl Ellsworth
Cinematography: Brendan Galvin
Editing: Mike McCusker, Steven Mirkovichm, Tim Mirkovich
Production design: Fredrick Waff
Music: David Buckley
Main cast: Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P McKenzie