Have you ever wondered how close the person driving in front of you was to snapping? Or how one honk of the horn could turn your average Joe into a belligerent maniac? Well, consider your curiosity settled with Unhinged. A thriller that follows a man who gets one bad case of road rage, Unhinged is a violent, exciting movie that has no right being as good as it is.
The film opens with a shot of a man (Russell Crowe) quietly sitting in his truck. He pops a couple pills, throws his wedding ring in the back, and lights a match only to let it burn out. He sits outside your typical suburban home on a rainy night and doesn’t let out a word. What is he thinking? What is he about to do? Then the man brings out a hammer and a can of gasoline and smashes his way into the residence. We have our answer.
Jump forward to a montage that uses real-life footage and news soundbites depicting the anger broiling in America. We witness people flipping each other off and cars wrecking off the road.
The introduction to Unhinged is effective. The first minutes establish the chaotic and tense tone of the movie. Everyone appears stressed. You can sense the characters want to grab hold of each other’s throats, barely hanging onto their composure. Rachel (Caren Pistorius), the single mother and hair stylist we follow throughout the film, is a culprit of this. She’s late to everywhere she goes, has just been fired by a client, is working through a divorce, and above all else is stuck in traffic trying to get her son (Gabriel Bateman) to school. Little does she know when she honks her horn at an unbeknownst stranger who won’t budge at a greenlight, she’s picked the wrong battle. She chose to piss off a homicidal psychopath who will stop at nothing to show Rachel what an actual bad day looks like.
The first wide release in theaters post-pandemic, Unhinged benefitted from an empty movie slate; the film has a deceivingly straight-to-Redbox look to it and may not make it to theaters in a regular landscape. However, the film’s good fortunes were shortly thereafter swept beneath the hype of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet which came out Labor Day weekend. I consider Unhinged a late-summer sleeper hit.
Clocking in at just about 90 minutes, the movie never overstays its welcome. Unhinged is almost always moving. The film is surprisingly violent too; there’s a scene in a diner which involves a man getting stabbed in the back of the neck with a butter knife that is brutal…ouch. Russell Crowe is an absolute beast. He puts on a Southern accent and allows his fists to do the talking. Crowe appears to have been given free rein in portraying this sadistic, bulky character and the results are nothing short of entertaining.
Unhinged arrived in theaters during quite a heated period in America. Only a couple months before the 2020 election, emotions were running high. The movie plays on the frustration we’ve witnessed and felt in this country over the last several years, and acts as an unexpected zeitgeist (however, I doubt that is how this film will be remembered). The film doesn’t have much to say on the anger of the nation, but it does capitalize on it for the sake of guilty pleasure entertainment. In summary, put your mind on cruise control and allow Unhinged take you for a wild ride.