A cross between Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down (1993) and Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971), Derrick Borte’s Unhinged is the kind of old-school genre film — in this case, a road-rage thriller — that used to find its way in the niche market back in the VHS era.
And a good one too, with the nearly-unrecognisable Russell Crowe leading the role of a deranged man named Tom Cooper. This isn’t the same Crowe we have grown accustomed to his Gladiator heyday, as he looks all unkempt and out of shape with a bulging fat suit tucked underneath his shirt. The story — credited to Carl Ellsworth of Red Eye (2005) and Disturbia (2007) fame — is lean and straightforward enough: Tom goes after a woman (Caren Pistorius’ Rachel) repeatedly honking at him on the road when he refuses to move his pickup truck even the traffic light has turned green. He demands an apology but Rachel, a recently-divorced single mom who’s been having a bad day herself, isn’t sincerely interested in dealing with him. What follows next is an ugly nightmare involving everything from car crashes, dangerous threats and lots and lots of violence.
Russell Crowe’s character echoes Michael Douglas’ William Foster role in the underrated Falling Down. Both of them shared a few things in common, notably playing divorced and unemployed men looking to vent out their anger against whoever been giving them a hard time. Crowe looks the part here, complete with all the glassy stare and imposing figure and he’s clearly had a field day playing such an angry and violent character.
But surprisingly, I actually prefer Caren Pistorius a lot more in this movie. That’s probably because her character is more thoughtfully written as a single mom whose life has turned upside down with all the struggles she’s been going through.
Derrick Borte (2009’s The Joneses, 2019’s American Dreamer) pulls no punches when comes to depicting the violent consequences of road rage in an unapologetically B-movie vibe. Although at times it’s hard to swallow the fact to see such a preposterous plot involving a deranged man going as far as ruining someone’s life over a petty issue in every violent way possible, the movie still excels as an above-average guilty pleasure entertainment.
It’s also worth noting that the opening credits with all the montage from traffic jams to the road rage and various sound bites addressing the likes of stress and job losses does hit close to home. And as much as I appreciate Borte’s stripped-down approach here, it would be a bonus to see Ellsworth’s script injects more relevant social commentaries throughout the movie.
From the technical point-of-view, Borte made good use of the movie’s otherwise paltry US$33 million budget to stage some impressive car chases and crashes. And he successfully did so in an old-school, practical way.