Unhinged is pretty much like an old beaten-up car. You won’t know what is truly wrong with it until you drive it to a nearby workshop to have a thorough check. Once that is done, more often than not, you will get the shock of your life by one of these two things — the length of the listed parts required to be changed, or, the total bill of the repair.
Lift the hood up, and Unhinged can easily churn out 20 other alternative names for its unconventional tale of road rage and revenge. Like, “Russell Crowe’s 90-minute Course Towards Friendly Driving”. Or “Mad Tom: Slippery Roads”. Hmm, perhaps, “Lord of the Steerings: The Two Beaters”? But still, I like “Crouching Crowe, Hidden Caren” as well. But since director Derrick Borte has chosen a short and simple name for Russell Crowe’s road-rage adventure, we will just stick to Unhinged.
Unhinged, other than suggesting to you an unattached truck door that is about to drop real loud on the floor, also means mentally unbalanced — the condition that embroils the key person for the character study laid out by Borte. Crowe plays Tom Cooper, a random road-user who seems to be deeply depressed by what’s been happening around him, though I highly suspect that it is not his real name. Why? Because if I would to go on a road-rage spree, I would introduce myself as David Copperfield.
At the other corner of the ring, we have a Caren. Caren Pistorius. Pistorius plays Rachel, a single mother who is driving his teenage son, Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) to school when the traffic-jam’s of New Orleans drive her and Cooper into a perfect storm. The situation becomes much worse when Rachel’s divorce-lawyer, Andy (Jimmi Simpson) steps into the narrative. How much worse the scenes can appear to you pretty much depends on composer David Buckley (Angel Has Fallen, Jason Bourne), who has fortified Unhinged with layers after layers of tonal intensity.
Derrick Borte’s road-rage extravaganza is best enjoyed blind — if you have not read any synopsis of Unhinged and plan on seeing it, I highly suggest that you don’t. That is also the reason that I do not divulge anything excessive here, to prevent spoiling your experience. The film’s opening scene is perhaps one of the better crafted ones in recent history. If you step in blind enough, the intro can be mystery-packed and a little unsettling, because Borte literally throws you into chaos with questions and conflicting elements appearing on-screen.
Once Unhinged starts its proverbial engine, the film accelerates hard, and the crazy ride basically never stops. It does not hop hastily from scene to scene, but the suspense and stakes pile up rather quickly. The insane cat-and-mouse game and the characters’ constant-shifting positions of leverage did a great job catapulting me from scenes which I deemed to be ‘safe zones’, towards the ‘dangerous zones’, and vice versa. Talk about an effective way to stir up the audience.
There is a big scene installed somewhere in the middle of the plot, and once that erupts, you are pretty much set on the collision course with the finale. Borte has the decency to steer the car chases, flips and crashes clear from fake CGI construction, a decision which is fairly important for a movie that has a big chunk of its action focused on the roads. To me, they are properly realistic and did not break up my immersive experience, though I had a hard time digesting the exhaust tone of Cooper’s truck, which growls as loud as those modified pick-up trucks on a dragstrip.
The thrill rides ultimately converge into a final resolve that — though a little disturbing — is one of the most satisfying closure for thriller flicks that I have seen in recent times. The ‘finishing move’ (for a lack of better words) unapologetically sends out a strong message on who you can truly rely on in times of danger, hinting strongly that you can solve them with your own two hands. At that moment, my thoughts paused. “Hold on a second, isn’t this the same kind of thinking as what Tom Cooper had?”.
Although not to the extent of Todd Phillips’ Joker, Unhinged proves to be a film which could potentially stay in your head for days. After going through the finale, which by itself is kind of sus, I began to picture Unhinged as a movie with a planted message from a ‘road-rage enthusiast’ (again, for a lack of better words).
It is obviously not a coincidence that all the events in Unhinged collectively fulfill the sense of ‘justice’ that road-ragers believe in. If you observe Unhinged carefully — no spoilers here —, annoying characters get what they ask for, even though they are ‘technically’ innocent people of the society. The severity of the misfortunes that befall upon them, for most of the part, actually goes hand-in-hand with how annoying they are in the film. Even some random road-users who fail to pay attention while driving get punished by Unhinged to the extent of bordering on dark comedy, which just shows how unforgiving the movie can be.
With Russell Crowe at the forefront as a deranged road-user, there is certainly some concealed glorifying of road rage going on. And no, portraying Tom Cooper as an overweight man — a physique that automatically transforms him into Unhinged’s heavyweight champion (read: Mike Tyson) — doesn’t help to suppress that vibe either. But to be truly fair, the film wants the viewers to understand that victims of road-rage incidents might be going through some tough hell as well, and the road-ragers are not entitled to unleash everything on them just because they had a bad day.
While Crowe might not be in his most attractive shape in Unhinged, the man proves to the audience again that he is such a reliable performer, even when working around a rather challenging and unreliable character such as Tom Cooper. I would go as far as to say that Unhinged works well because of Crowe’s approach towards his character. If Tom Cooper was to be in the hands of another actor, I doubt that Unhinged would turn out bad, but I am rather confident that it would not be as impactful as it is now. Of course, Pistorius’ portrayal of the believably frightened Rachel does elevate and contrast with Crowe’s presence, and deserves applause as well.
Unhinged conceals some pretty strong messages about road-rage, pack them up, and deliver them to you via 93 minutes of insane road-zipping action that signals Mad Max: Fury Road. It is amusing how director Derrick Borte can take up such a simple premise and transform it into a well-crafted piece of non-stop suspense, which is equally as thought-provoking as it is frightening. It is a road-rage movie that nobody think they will ever need, which in my opinion, should be pursued aggressively by moviegoers akin to, well, a road rage — The Film Addict
*Unhinged is now available on Prime Video
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