Unstoppable - Directed by Tony Scott, written by Mark Bomback, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Lew Temple, and Kevin Dunn - Rated PG-13
Unstoppable features the most ridiculous out of control cinematic train since Highlander II: The Quickening.
Director Tony Scott and Denzel Washington must have really loved playing with train sets in their youth. Unstoppable marks their second film in two years that deals with transportation on tracks. I enjoyed last year’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, even though I felt that it was over-directed by Scott. When I heard about Unstoppable it seemed almost like a joke. Why would these guys make another movie about trains so close together? I’m glad they made another train movie, though, because Unstoppable is totally decent and coupled with Pelham it makes for an unlikely, slightly above average double feature.
Unstoppable is based on the “true” story of a runaway train loaded with hazardous chemicals in Ohio in which no one was hurt. In the film, which takes place in Pennsylvania, the drama is ramped up considerably. Not only is the train moving at higher speeds than the real train (upwards of 70 MPH in the film compared to 46-47 MPH in reality), but there is also a train of school children on the tracks, and the train is heading into a highly residential area. Add some police cars chasing alongside of it and even throw in some gunfire (there is real news footage of a deputy actually trying to shoot the fuel tank of the train) and you have yourself a movie. I’m not being sarcastic at all. I dug the “what else could go wrong?” plot.
What makes the film work, though, is Scott’s overbearing direction. This is a loud movie and I mean that in the best way. Scott places the viewer on the tracks and it gets intense. He also does a good job of making everything seem much more frantic than it really is; the train is on tracks, you know, and 70 MPH isn’t that insane of a speed. But I did get a feeling of urgency throughout and the film never slows down or becomes boring. With that said, I did feel like Scott used too many extremely similar shots to the point that I thought he was just reusing footage after awhile. And he does have to throw in the occasional pointless camera swing that has become his annoying trademark, but it is toned down in this film.
Scott has the train sensation down, but you still need to care about the people on the tracks. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine (Star Trek) are the two unlikely heroes who take it upon themselves to run the train down in reverse and try to stop it. Of course, Washington is fine. He’s not doing anything new, but that’s okay. I still enjoy his work even though he’s getting dangerously close to becoming a caricature now that he’s a regular target on “Saturday Night Live.” After a lampooning on “SNL” I can’t look at Mark Wahlberg without laughing; I hope the same doesn’t happen with Washington.
Pine handles himself well opposite Washington as the young whippersnapper to Washington’s disillusioned veteran. Their relationship is a bit uneven in the early moments of the film, moving too quickly back and forth from buddy-buddy to angry rivals, but by the end, they had earned a nice scene in which they talk about Pine’s marital status while speeding backwards in a train. The absurdity of the moment worked for me.
The rest of the cast is rounded out well. T. J. Miller and Ethan Suplee are amusing as the goofy rail workers who allow the train to get away. Rosario Dawson and Kevin Corrigan have some decent scenes from the command post. Kevin Dunn gets to slime up the screen as the greedy company man. My favorite performance, however, comes from Lew Temple as Ned, the overzealous, cowboy rail worker who shows up from time to time to yell at people. He really added some much needed humor to the film.
Speaking of humor, this film ends very strangely. Not to ruin anything, but for the first 95 minutes this is a relatively serious film, but the last five minutes are almost complete comedy. There’s even a cheesy montage that lets us know what happened to all of the characters that is clearly trying to evoke some laughs. It seemed out of place to me. Maybe the point was that after watching a loud train barrel down a track for nearly two hours, the audience was entitled to relax and laugh a little. It didn’t really work for me, though.
So is Unstoppable as ridiculous as the previews lead you to believe? Yes, actually it’s even more whacky than you may have thought. But if you just go with it, it ends up being an enjoyable time. I can’t lie, though; I hope Denzel Washington and Tony Scott have gotten trains out of their system. I’m not sure I can handle a trilogy.