Russell Crowe takes the term “road rage” to a homicidal level in Solstice Studio’s Unhinged from director Derrick Borte. Screenwriter Carl Ellsworth opens the film showing the mentally unstable Tom Cooper (Crowe) preparing to commit a heinous act of violence. Throughout the scene, Tom never smiles or shows any kind of regret or remorse. Shortly after, we meet a recent divorcee and single mom Rachel Hunter (Caren Pistorius). In addition to raising her teenage son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman), Rachel provides a home for her brother Fred (Austin P. McKenzie) and his girlfriend Deborah (Anne Leighton).
One day, while taking Kyle to school, Rachel’s impatience gets the best of her at a routine traffic signal. When a driver ahead of her fails to go after the light turns green, Rachel honks her horn at the driver, who, you guessed, is Tom. Rachel’s rudeness sets Tom off, who was already having a bad day. Thus begins a cat & mouse game between Tom & Rachel, with Tom vowing to ensure Rachel has the worst day from hell and learns some manners.
Naturally, some viewers will have some skepticism at Unhinged’s premise, as the plot has been done before. Direct to DVD and TV movie of the week fans may recall the Casper Van Dien 2000 flick Road Rage and the same titled Yasmine Bleeth 1999 NBC movie. Thankfully director Derrick Borte and his screenwriter Carl Ellsworth keep the run time short and give the audience an enjoyable popcorn flick.
The studio makes the wise choice to cast the semi unknown Caren Pistorius as our lead, Rachel. One would expect a more established actress to ensure butts in seats. However, as I wasn’t familiar with Pistorius’s previous work, I found myself able to identify with Rachel’s character. From the moment Tom begins to follow and wreak havoc on her life, I generally felt for our heroine. I also commend Ellsworth for not having Rachel make dumb mistakes, which is often the norm in movies like this.
While I won’t reveal how Tom tracks Rachel so easily, I will say that the angle that screenwriter Carl Ellsworth decides to use is a very plausible one in the digital age. As for Russel Crowe, long gone are the days where the Aussie showcased smoldering athletics as Maximus in Gladiator. Crowe’s Tom is an overweight, short-fused maniac. Truth be told, throughout the movie I kept expecting to see a “Make America Great Again” hat in Tom’s car.
Throughout the film, I think Crowe may have smiled one time. The majority of the film showcases Crowe’s piercing eyes mixed with brute strength. One of the film’s best moments involves a meeting between Crowe and Rachel’s lawyer friend Andy, portrayed by Jimmi Simpson. Crow has always excelled at portraying a bad guy, and I haven’t enjoyed Crowe as a bad guy this much since his role as Sid 6.7 IN 1995’s Virtuosity.
In terms of direction, Derrick Borte keeps the pacing and the kills productive. Of particular note is a chase scene on a New Orleans freeway. Credit must also go the director and writer for not over-analyzing Tom with an unneeded back story or allowing us to fully root for the bad guy. From the moment Tom makes his first kill, we know that he’s evil.
Unhinged has the distinct honor of being the first film to open, since theaters closed back in the spring, due to the COVID pandemic. I can understand movie buffs and casual fans’ apprehension about returning to theaters right away. Should you decide to make the trip to your local, Unhinged is a great way to waste ninety minutes.
Final Grade B+