Unhinged is an action thriller from Solstice Studios starring Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. When overstressed soon to be single mom Rachel has a nasty altercation with a stranger in the middle of L.A. traffic it quickly escalates into the worst day of her life. Thrillers are at their best when they take a situation anyone could find themselves in and turn it into a nightmare. When you walk away from its story wondering “what if?”. This is certainly the goal of Unhinged. And during its highest moments of terror, it can drag you down into protagonist Rachel’s nightmare. But, as the film barrels toward its third act, cracks form in its narrative that causes it to falter as it nears its end.
Unhinged wastes no time establishing its antagonist. The first moments of the film see Tom Cooper (Crowe) brutally, and methodically murder two people. This opening sequence sets the tone of intensity the rest of the movie will follow. Every moment Crowe is in front of the camera, he is intimidating and unnerving to watch. Whether he is talking softly or yelling threats, Crowe constantly projects the aura of pure rage. This is no sympathetic villain. Unhinged only wants you to feel one thing when presented with Cooper’s presence. Fear.
After this brutal opening, the movie takes us to meet our protagonist Rachel (Pistorius). This soon to be a single mom who recently lost her hair saloon and can feel life rapidly slipping through her fingers. As we are introduced to her she has overslept to get her son to school. Couple that with a brief altercation with her brother and his girlfriend who is currently staying with them, but not paying rent, and you instantly feel how overwhelmed Rachel’s life has become. It is a stark contrast to Cooper, Unhinged quickly establishes Rachel as someone anyone can feel sympathetic to. We’ve all had our lives take turns we didn’t ask for, and her struggles instantly feel real.
Once Rachel finally has her son in the car and they head off to school the infamous L.A. traffic is in full effect. When a light turns green and the vehicle in front of her doesn’t move she leans on her horn before whipping around the unmoving vehicle. The vehicle quickly catches up to her to reveal Cooper behind the wheel.
Signaling to roll down their windows he attempts to coerce an apology from Rachel for blaring her horn, instead of giving a “courtesy tap”. Rachel, already having a bad day, responds negatively to his requests. After a brief pursuit, Rachel loses Cooper and drops her son off at school. She finds herself confronted again by Cooper when he catches up to her at a local gas station. From their things turn deadly.
It is during this middle portion of Unhinged where it shines the brightest. Crowe’s rage and anger are seething, Rachel’s terror is palpable, and the brutal demonstrations of how far Cooper will go to hurt Rachel are shocking. Some of the more intense moments I’ve seen in cinema in years rest in this middle section of the movie. Unfortunately, once the initial game of cat and mouse begins to wear off Unhinged’s plot begins to fall through.
There are two significant problems with the narrative as it builds toward’s its climatic confrontation. The first is the inability of Copper to suffer from injuries like an actual human being. There are a couple of key moments that should outright incapacitate, if not kill the antagonist. However, in the often used thriller trope, Cooper seems to become immune to injury during these situations. This hurts the narrative for me, even if its presence didn’t surprise me.
The other problem I have with Unhinged’s story is how late movie revelations alter the tone of Cooper’s character. For the bulk of the story, he is an enraged driver who is pissed with the world and is simply taking it out on Rachel. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, as elements get revealed its shown that Cooper has taken steps in his hunt for Rachel that a random enraged man would never think to take. I won’t spoil what they are, but they really stretched the suspension of disbelief for me.
An element of Unhinged that must be talked about is it’s the cinematography. The camera work is always right where it needs to be. It not only captures the intensity of its lead characters, but goes above and beyond to amplify, and create, the intensity of Unhinged’s many chases and violent confrontations. When all is said done Unhinged delivers a tense action ride through the streets of L.A. While there is a stumble or two near the end, I would still recommend the movie to anyone looking for a strong dose of tension-filled thrills to close their summer with.
Unhinged is playing in open theaters nationwide in the US now.
When all is said done Unhinged delivers a tense action ride through the streets of L.A. While there is a stumble or two near the end, I would still recommend the movie to anyone looking for a strong dose of tension-filled thrills to close their summer with.