I wanted my first trip to a movie theatre post-lockdown to involve Tenet. Ten minutes into this pulpy thriller, however, and I’d forgotten all about Christopher Nolan. And that I was wearing a mask. And that the chair might be harbouring Covid-19. I was too busy enjoying Russell Crowe’s performance. The man’s a genius.
Crowe is Tom Hunter, a Southerner who, early on, uses a hammer to kill his ex-wife and her partner (Hunter views himself, and all divorced men, as victims of a pro-feminist state). He’s a horrible misogynist. And the best cinema villain we’ve had in ages.
Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is a single mum, recently divorced and in the middle of nasty financial wrangles with her ex. She also has a younger brother who’s dossing at her house (along with his girlfriend). One morning, as she’s driving her son to school, she beeps her horn when Tom’s truck proves laggardly. He views this as unseemly behaviour and when she refuses to apologise, he succumbs to road rage.
He nabs her mobile phone with ease (an especially illogical element in a plot that, frankly, is full of holes) and proceeds to target all that she holds dear. Phone invasion, as opposed to home invasion, is fertile soil for scares. So is the fact that Tom uses his truck as a weapon and can make other vehicles crumple like tissues. The death and destruction is shocking and — blush — rather enjoyable.
When Rachel realises what she’s up against, she does indeed say sorry. Hunter, unimpressed, replies: “I can still hear that tinge of f***-off in your voice.” It’s a great line, beautifully delivered
Thanks to the script, but mostly to Crowe, there are moments when Hunter feels like a droll character from Curb Your Enthusiasm, or even La La Land (a film in which, if you remember, road-rage inspires excellent banter). Even when simply glowering, Crowe keeps us guessing. There are hints that Tom hasn’t always hated women (it helps that Pistorius is a dead-ringer for Jennifer Connelly, who played Crowe’s loving wife in A Beautiful Mind). Does Tom want to kiss or kill Rachel? Crowe makes that seem like a viable question.
Pistorius, too, adds texture to scenes that might otherwise have been blah. Rachel sleeps on the couch — she doesn’t feel entitled to take up space — and she’s morally confused (should she be more assertive, or is gracious the way to go?) Pistorius conveys this through tiny facial spasms, making Rachel a distant cousin of the stricken but resilient thirtysomething played by Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man.
The film strikes an interesting balance. It fights for Rachel’s right to be aggressive, even as it decides that Jacinda Ardern is probably right (calm is good).
People are raging. Covid is raging. While things are relatively calm, seize the opportunity to enjoy Crowe’s exuberantly trashy, car-thartic treat.
Available to view in cinemas