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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Derrick Borte
scr Carl Ellsworth
prd Lisa Ellzey, Mark Gill, Andrew Gunn
with Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius, Gabriel Bateman, Jimmi Simpson, Austin P McKenzie, Juliene Joyner, Michael Papajohn, Anne Leighton, Lucy Faust, Sylvia Grace Crim, Stephen Louis Grush, Devyn A Tyler
release UK 31.Jul.20,
20/US Solstice 1h30
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An overpowering onslaught of violence swamps this action thriller, obliterating even the vaguest hint of character complexity or interaction. It's a shame, because there are elements that might have brought both the story and themes to life. Instead, it's one viciously nasty set-piece after another, shot and edited with considerable skill, and played with gritty power by the cast. But there's simply no point to it.
Perpetually running late, single mother Rachel (Pistorius) needs to deliver her bright teen son Kyle (Bateman) to school before a meeting with her divorce lawyer Andy (Simpson). Impatient in traffic, she blows her horn at the wrong guy (Crowe), a sweaty-burly ball of rage in a massive pick-up, and he decides to teach her a lesson. What Rachel doesn't know is that he's mentally unstable, and this very morning he murdered his ex and blew up her home. So now everyone around Rachel is in danger, including her goofy brother (McKenzie) and his girlfriend (Joyner).
The script casually brushes off its inconsistencies with appalling conveniences, such as how Rachel neglects to lock her phone, a ludicrous cliche that fuels a long string of contrived plot points. But while much of what happens is implausible, it's shot and performed with skill to evoke both churning intensity and an earthy sense of realism. There are more spectacular car crashes than you can count, and some genuinely horrific grisliness. And yet there isn't a moment that's actually suspenseful.
Pistorius holds the film together with an open performance as a women overwhelmed by life who finds focus when her son is threatened. It's fairly obvious where this script will send her, but she plays it beautifully, finding increasing steeliness as she goes along. Bateman also makes the most of his underwritten role as a smart, resourceful kid. Meanwhile, Crowe goes for broke as the bloated, mercurial monster who can almost pretend to be reasonable before descending into another flurry of sadism.
There are some interesting things that the film might have said about road rage, the chaos of modern life or especially mental illness. But writer Ellsworth and director Borte never look beyond the ghastly surface, which means that the audience is unable to engage with any of it. The story is so badly constructed that we're never in doubt about where it's going, so it becomes a slasher horror rather than a psychological thriller. And it's so nihilistic that it leaves us desperate for some fresh air.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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