LOS ANGELES: In any other year, “Unhinged” would have passed by with little notice, an enjoyable popcorn flick rounding off the summer season after the blockbuster movies had come and gone. But this year, the road rage thriller has found itself in the fast lane with everyone paying attention.
Back in May, “Unhinged” promised to “test the waters” for film distributors as the first film to open in American theaters after the shutdowns brought on by the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Now, after three rounds of delays, the film will make good on that promise as theaters attempt to bounce back after months of being shuttered. Arab News was joined by the film’s stars Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius to find out more about the film.
“Unhinged” has a simple premise that builds off an experience that anyone who has been behind the wheel of a car knows all too well: road rage. The film follows divorced, single mother Rachel, played by Pistorius, stuck behind a pickup truck in rush-hour traffic.
Unbeknownst to her, the man in the truck, played by Crowe, is the same one that the audience watched murder a couple and burn down their house in the film’s cold open. After honking and a shouting match, Rachel finds herself being pursued by the man as he sets out on a vicious rampage to destroy everything and everyone Rachel loves.
“Some people seem to just take that moment of you being vulnerable like that to threaten you with cars, and it’s never made any sense to me,” Crowe said of his experiences with real-life angry drivers.
Nevertheless, Crowe is able to capture that anger and bring it to life in the extreme here. Crowe, credited as simply “The Man,” turns in an engagingly intimidating performance. His initial conversation with Rachel where he demands she apologize for honking at him is chilling, his barely contained rage oozing past his attempt to be polite. And once his campaign of terror begins in earnest, his deep growl and gravitas serve to carry the film.
As is the case with most slasher flicks, the star of the film is the villain. The job of the rest of the cast is to run, freak out and, in many cases, be murdered.
“It was incredibly grueling physically and emotionally because I can’t help but put myself in that state of mind,” Pistorius told Arab News. “Two whole months straight. I had maybe two days off. By the end of the two months, I think I slept for two weeks straight.”
After their initial encounter, Pistorius and Crowe rarely share screen time, aside from chase scenes in their respective vehicles.
“Most of our scenes were over the phone,” Pistorius said. Nonetheless, she was grateful to have been able to work with her veteran actor costar. “I just made sure to really watch and observe and learn as much as I could.”
Of course, being a film about road rage, what “Unhinged” delivers on most are the chase scenes. Neither of the two leads are wild drivers in real life, with Crowe describing himself as pretty chilled out in the car and Pistorius going as far as to call herself a “bit of a grandma” when she drives. In fact, she told us that prior to filming she had not driven for over a year.
“I’d kind of forgotten what it’s like to be on the road,” Pistorius confided. “When we had heavy dialogue scenes, I had a stunt driver who would sit in a cage above me and he would actually have control over the car. It was really amazing the first time. It was like going on a roller coaster ride. Then for scenes where there wasn’t a whole lot of dialogue, I would be driving.”
“Unhinged” is not a deep movie. Crowe turns in an entertaining performance, and his depiction of a man who has slipped past civility toward violence is, appropriately for the genre, more of a force of nature than a character. Unfortunately, the script does not seem to be on the same page, trying for either character study or social commentary but not fully delivering on either. “The Man” is also divorced and now holds a grudge against society, women in particular. Little is done with the idea though, leaving the film feeling unsure of what it wants to be. The writers toy with their antagonist being Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” but in reality, all he needed to be was Jason Voorhees in a truck.