A phone call from her divorce attorney awakens Rachel. She’s already running late for work and for dropping her son Kyle off at school. Her estranged husband is being ruthless in the negotiations, while her mother’s health is deteriorating. Her hairdressing gig is falling apart, and the financial strain is becoming too much. Rachel is having what most of us would agree is a bad day. But when she lays on her horn at the truck in front of her at a signal light, the man confronts her. She refuses to apologize for not offering up “a courtesy tap,” and the man’s demeanor immediately shifts as he spouts, “I don’t even think you really know what a bad day is.”
Thanks to the prologue, we see the man in the truck (Russell Crowe) pop some pills, break into a house, severely beat a man, and proceed to set the house on fire. This is the man Rachel (Caren Pistorius) refuses to apologize to. Her morning has been hectic and stressful, but his has been disastrous. Her bad day is about to get much worse. Imagine if “Mayhem” from the Allstate commercials was in a bad mood and ready to seek vengeance. Crowe plays the menacing man in a menacing truck.
Director Derrick Borte (The Joneses, 2009) and writer Carl Ellsworth (the underrated horror-thriller Red Eye, 2005 and Disturbia, 2007) have created an extremely volatile dangerous cat and mouse between Rachel and The Man. As he proceeds to destroy those in her life, she fights to save her son by using her wits. During the film, we see some vicious acts of violence and some spectacular car crashes. There is also a lesson about cell phones – the remarkable handheld computers that we run our lives from – in a battle of convenience versus security risk.
Over the opening credits we see and hear a montage of road rage episodes of real people “losing it,” and the corresponding commentary. It sets the stage, but not for what our initial impressions tell us. While a statement is made about de-funding or reducing funding for the police, the filmmakers avoid turning this into a giant political agenda. Instead, it’s a good old fashioned manic-thriller in the vein of Spielberg’s underrated Duel (1971), The Hitcher (1986), and Falling Down (1993). Extreme stress can generate anger which results in a loss of control, and that’s what we witness here in extreme form.
20 years ago Russell Crowe won an Oscar for Gladiator, and his bloated face and body are picture-perfect for a man who has slipped over the edge. Two scenes allow him to flash some of that extraordinary talent: the initial interaction with Rachel and son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman), and then again in the diner with Rachel’s attorney played by Jimmi Simpson (“Westworld”). Caren Pistorius holds her own as the frantic, perpetually late mother, but that’s not surprising given her excellent work in the underrated Slow West (2015). Keep Shelly in Athens offers up a nice remake of “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” as we are reminded to always keep an eye on your candy cane scissors.