About 62 percent of U.S. locations were open this weekend, with an estimated total gross of around $15 million to $16 million. If all theaters were open, $25 million or above would have been the total. That same weekend last year (which included the three days before Labor Day) totaled $92 million. Conclusion: movie theaters are struggling to rise from the grave.
The lack of ongoing films is a key factor. In 2019 there were no new films that weekend. Aided by more theaters being open and a handful of new releases, this weekend’s numbers are nearly double last weekend’s grosses. However, these numbers suggest that a substantial part of the moviegoing public is, so far, not going back to the movies.
My last pre-pandemic movie was “The Way Back” (Ben Affleck) on Friday the 13th of March.
I returned to a regular sit-down inside theater to view Russell Crowe’s new movie, “Unhinged” when it opened on August 21st, which also happened to be the day the Regal Cinema opened. Since March 13th, I’ve seen plenty of movies, but all have been viewed in my living room or, once, at the drive-in theater. This film, directed by Derrick Borte, was a welcome return on many levels. It’s a great film for my “welcome back” movie, even if the theater staff were less-than-welcoming.
We selected an early time of day for this Friday showing, going to our local cinema at 4:30 p.m. I was dressed like a beekeeper, with my face-mask. I had rubber gloves (in my purse), if the situation warranted.
When the masked attendants told us that this was, quite literally, the first time they had been open in 5 full months and we were their first audience, the fear of virus transmission faded. It dissipated even further when it turned out that there were only 4 people in the entire theater—two of us in the front row of the balcony and two more patrons in the highest row of the theater.
I honestly did not see the other couple at least fifty feet behind us. I pulled out my small pin-light flashlight (part of a pen) to glance briefly at my notes. A masked attendant immediately swooped down to tell me this was verboten. My response, “We are literally the only people here. Who am I bothering?” She pointed out the second couple in the back. They were so far back that it would have been quite the achievement to even notice my small light, (on for roughly five seconds). An attendant with not enough to do, methinks. Makes you wonder when you’ve, no doubt, sat through films where someone in your row has their phone out for the entire 90 minutes. (Not the case here).
We didn’t expect much, but we were pleasantly surprised. Russell Crowe’s new film is a heart-pounding thriller, with great stunts involving a variety of vehicles and good acting. The film reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s long-ago film “Duel,” a 1971 movie for TV that featured Dennis Weaver (Chester on “Gunsmoke“) as the driver of a large truck. That log-line: “A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by the malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer.”
In “Unhinged,” the log-line is this: “After a confrontation with an unstable man at an intersection, a woman becomes the target of his rage.” Russell Crowe’s character is “The Man.” You come away with the moral lesson that it would have been a lot better if the woman mentioned, Caren Pistorius portraying Rachel, had simply tried to remain calm and polite. Instead, she went off into rude territory when Russell Crowe’s character sits overlong at a green light in his large truck.
True, Rachel’s offense was pretty minor, but one never knows what the person in the other vehicle has been through or what their mindset is. In this case, The Man has just murdered several people, set off by a bad divorce. He just doesn’t give a damn any more.
Rachel does give a damn, but she has crossed paths with a character who is the equivalent of human TNT. It isn’t a matter of “if” The Man will blow up. He has already blown up. Now, it’s just a matter of when he will explode again and who it will be directed against next.
Instead of counting to ten and putting up with the slight delay, the hassled mother of a young son, Kyle (played by Gabriel Bateman), is snippy to the large man sitting behind the wheel of the big pick-up truck. She honks her horn when the light turns green, but he does not move. It doesn’t seem like much, but it isn’t going to take much to set off that keg of human dynamite.
One feels, as the movie progresses, that Rachel will regret that temporary rude behavior for the rest of her life—a life that might not last that long. Like The Terminator, The Man takes a licking, but just keeps ticking along on his vengeance-fueled mission.
Like the lead character Michael Douglas portrayed in “Falling Down” in that 1993 Joel Schumacher film, we could say that this is the story of “an ordinary man frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, who begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them.”
In this film, The Man’s biggest beef is that “There is a fundamental inability to apologize to anyone for anything.” (Donald J. Trump: take note.) When Rachel is given the opportunity to apologize to The Man in a more sincere and genuine manner, Crowe tells her that sincerity is lacking. After that, it’s all crushed cars and psychotic collisions, with good acting, fine David Buckley music and great Brendan Galvin cinematography.
At the very beginning of the film, we see Crowe—who appears to weigh well over 300 pounds—breaking into a house presumably occupied by his ex-wife, killing the occupants, and setting fire to the house. That done, he tosses his wedding ring into the back seat of his vehicle. The scene is set for Crowe’s all-consuming rage to fester and spread.
It is just Rachel’s luck that she is having a bad day, herself, including running late and getting fired. After seeing this film, you might think twice about laying on the horn when the car ahead of you irritates you. There is a lack of civility abroad in the land and it is nowhere more evident than in traffic altercations. It even has a name: road rage. It has crept into politics and I, for one, hope that the message of behaving in a civil, polite manner rubs off on that—and all other—arenas.
Add the bad day each character is having together and you have the makings of a show-down between The Man, who seems to have been “born angry” and Rachel, who will do anything to protect her son and her brother.
Jimmi Simpson plays Andy, Rachel’s good friend and attorney in her contentious divorce. Viewers will recognize Jimmi as the actor who played young William in “West World” (old William is Ed Harris) for 12 episodes beginning in 2016. Simpson also has appeared in “Date Night.”
I left the theater on Friday the 13th with a good movie and returned to “Unhinged,” 5 months later, with another good movie. Try it; you’ll like it.