Unstoppable

UnstoppableTony Scott is kind of like the Toyota Corolla of directors.  He’s not your go-to guy when you want creativity, exceptional storytelling, or cinematic wonder.  But he’s reliable, always gets the job done, and you will probably have some fun along the way too.  Having never achieved quite the level of notoriety as his older brother Ridley Scott, creator of groundbreaking films like Alien and Blade Runner, he has nonetheless careved out a comfortable niche for himself over the years by churning out action films ranging from decent to pretty darn good.  You might have never heard of his movies Deja Vu, Spy Game, or Crimson Tide (and if not, you should definitely check them out) but titles like Days of Thunder and Top Gun will definitely ring a bell.  Unstoppable fits perfectly within the Tony Scott catalog, offering an engaging thrill ride with likable characters and just enough explosions to keep the crowd cheering.

Like another movie about a fast-moving vehicle that cannot be stopped, Unstoppable is about as straightforward as they come: a runaway train full of (what else?) toxic waste must be stopped before it ravages the Pennsylvania countryside, not to mention another train full of (because if you’re gonna go, you might as well go all the way) young schoolchildren. The Commonwealth’s only hope for salvation from certain doom lies in the hands of grizzled “I’ve seen it all, son” train engineer Frank (Denzel Washington, doing his working-man schtick) and young wet-behind-the-ears punk conductor Will (Chris Pine, whose steel-blue eyes lit up the screen a couple years ago as Captain Kirk).  Sure this unlikely pair starts off on the wrong foot, what with Will’s penchant for disobedience and Frank’s insistence on always following the rules.  But when a typical day of switching train cars and hauling freight goes spiraling out of control, who ya gonna call?

Unstoppable: Denzel Washington

Because there aren't enough hero shots of Denzel Washington on top of a train.

The curious thing about Unstoppable is that our heroes spend pretty much the entire movie confined to a closet-sized train cab, while most of the action happens entirely out of their control.  Frank and Will are not on the runaway train, but on another train traveling on the same tracks.  If this were The French Connection, Bullitt, or another prototypical chase movie, vehicles would be careening about while exploding all manner of flotsam and jetsam. But Scott wisely builds tension with escalating doomsday scenarios that start with the possible impact of the train with a couple of horses and ends with the possibility of the runaway train essentially transforming a good chunk of blue-collar Pennsylvania into a toxic wasteland.  And while the archetypal corporate types at Railroad HQ want to simply derail the train and cut their losses, Frank decides to take matters into his own hands and essentially run down the train with the locomotive he and Will are riding in, couple to it, and throw their engine in reverse.  It’s a plan that’s so crazy it just might work.

The real life scenario upon which this movie is based was nowhere near as dramatic as Scott’s version, but the conductors were no less heroic than their Hollywood counterparts.  But the other characters are a little too overwrought and one-dimensional to be taken seriously.  From the railroad president, who pauses his game of golf just long enough to ask if the runaway train will affect his company’s stock price, to the horrendously incompetent train engineer who is responsible for the train’s escape in the first place, everyone whose name is not on the movie poster is pretty much here to deliver obvious exposition or blatantly further the conflict.  It’s not a bad thing, though, as this keeps the focus of the movie sharp and uncluttered.  And through smart pacing and a couple decent side-plots involving other characters attempting to bring the runaway train to a halt, Unstoppable succeeds at being a thoroughly entertaining action movie that really does a good job of keeping viewers engaged and (dare I say it? Yes I think so) on the edge of their seats.

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Last 5 posts by Simon R.

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