Russell Crowe is both the best and the worst thing that could have happened to Unhinged. The best in that he gives an authentic, chilling performance as a psychopath. The worst in that the presence of the Oscar-winning actor may fool people into thinking the film is more than it is. Director Derrick Borte and screenwriter Carl Ellsworth are only interested in giving audiences a lean-and-mean little B-movie packed with cheap thrills. Despite the promise of it in the early scenes, you won't find any intellectual discourse on the story's theme of road rage. If you want some shocking bursts of nasty violence designed to provide a jolt, Unhinged delivers on that level just fine.
Caren Pistorius plays Rachel, a single mom struggling to cope with the emotional fallout of her divorce and the loss of her job. One day, she's running late, which means that her son Kyle (Child's Play's Gabriel Bateman) might get detention at school. No matter which road she tries to take, there's a traffic jam. Just when she thinks they're finally making progress, the guy in the pickup truck in front of her sits at a green light. She angrily honks, then speeds around him. This sets off a road rage incident in which “The Man” (Crowe) proceeds to stalk her, both on the highway and off.
Scenes of Rachel weaving in and out of traffic trying to evade her pursuer are tense. Borte stages chase scenes extremely well, making the tension something you can feel in your bones as you watch. If you've ever had someone ride too close to your tail, or stop short in front of you, or swerve to run you off the road (accidentally or on purpose), you'll identify with the terror Rachel experiences.
The Man doesn't just follow her, though. There's a whole element about him getting Rachel's cell phone, replacing it with a burner phone, and using it as a means of drawing her out. By threatening other people in her life, she cannot simply go home and hide from him. She's got to confront him to protect those she loves. Unhinged has several brutal scenes of violence as this lunatic goes after anyone who stands between him and Rachel. Crowe really makes these moments work, as he gives the character a menacing quality that seems genuine. Instead of a cartoon villain, he turns The Man into a guy who has snapped and just can't let anything roll off. The actor has appeared in far more prestigious films, but even in a B-movie he gives one hundred percent. Pistorius is also very good, conveying the fear that Rachel endures over the course of one hellish day.
How much you enjoy Unhinged depends on how much you can tolerate plot holes and gaps in logic. A prologue only suggests at what has sent The Man over the edge; developing him further would have made him less of a slasher villain and more of a person we might relate to in some dark fashion. Plenty in the film doesn't make a ton of sense. One scene finds him committing an act of violence in public, with exactly zero of the many people standing around stepping in to stop him. (They just stare.) In another sequence, he reveals the seeming gift of magical powers, because he not only knows something Rachel has in her car, he's also equipped with the exact item needed to hide it from her.
Unhinged is additionally one of those movies where plot developments are telegraphed way in advance. Literally almost everything in the first ten minutes gets a callback later on. For example, when we see a close-up of Rachel's neighbor's license plate, you just know that's going to factor in at some point. For my taste, there's too much of that in the third act. Even seemingly throwaway bits of dialogue are signposts to stuff that occurs toward the end. The movie loses a little of its nerve-jangling quality when you feel the script connecting its own dots.
Without a doubt, Unhinged works as a piece of hard-edged exploitation. Given the quality of the performances from Pistorius and, especially, Crowe, I just wish that the screenplay had been up to their level.
out of four
Unhinged is rated R for strong violent content, and language throughout.. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.