1 Million Tons Of Steel. 100,000 Lives At Risk. 100 Minutes To Impact.
Very loosely inspired by true events in 2001, Unstoppable is your standard action thriller about a run-away freight train and the two railroad employees who make a daring attempt to stop the locomotive before it crashes in a highly populated area. So.. this is basically Speed on a train. To give Tony Scott credit, he does a pretty decent job of maintaining continual levels of tension and entertainment, only problem is, the film is about a run-away train, it’s not exactly treading new ground.
Starting off relatively slowly, Unstoppable introduces us to young conductor, Will [Pine], who in addition to being fresh out of training, is also experiencing messy legal proceedings, restraining him from seeing his wife and son. For his first practical assignment, he is paired up with twenty eight year railroad veteran, Frank Barnes [Washington]. Frank is your typical working-stiff, with two teenage daughters and about three weeks left before he is forced into early retirement. So, right away, you should be able to tell the kind of obvious character dynamic that’s going to take place here. After a series of sloppy mistakes, perpetrated by Ethan Suplee and T.J. Miller, a half-mile long freight train hauling some eight-or-so carriages of hazardous materials suddenly bolts off at seventy miles per hour toward the city of Stanton. Having cleared the track of oncoming trains, the executives try to avoid a PR nightmare by ignoring local signal controller, Connie Hooper [Dawson], whose initial suggestion of derailing the train is scoffed for being far too expensive. After several failed attempts, Will and Frank attempt to catch up to the train, hook onto it and slow it down. To be honest, it’s an incredibly simple premise, that should be a more than sufficient plot description.
Tony Scott is quite a difficult director to predict; at times he can produce extremely engrossing and captivating movies and other times he utilises the exact same techniques (usually saturated colours, quick erratic camera movements, etc) and comes up flat. From the very get-go, Scott employs several low close-ups of locomotives to instil a sense of size and power, an act further achieved by smashing the speeding train through a handful of obstacles to keep the audience engrossed. Sure, he still uses his blurry fades that make it difficult to tell exactly what’s going on but for some reason it works extremely well here. Furthermore, the soundtrack’s use of heavy riffing guitars and rising strings – if a little close to Tyler Bate’s score for 300 at times – fit the onscreen action. As with the majority of Scott’s flicks over the last ten years, his use of Denzel Washington pays off; if the worst comes to the worst and the film is a fucking mess, at least Denzel will produce a praiseworthy performance and carry the whole thing through to the end. Unstoppable is no different, Mr. Washington provides another steady contribution, as do Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson.
In any case, the whole story is fairly stupid, affording several opportunities for the oh-so-bankable ‘Woah, did you see that!?’ moments that American studios wet themselves over. But the action isn’t the problem – with Scott, it rarely is – the problem is the story itself. Although advertised as ‘inspired by true events’ the only real similarities are a runaway train and slowing a runaway train with another train, the rest seems largely fictitious. As such, Will and Frank’s subplots are not only incredibly weak but also disgracefully handled. Frank is a workaholic dad who misses his daughter’s birthday, big fucking whoop; the man’s getting laid off, he’ll have plenty of time to see his kids when he’s redundant. Will’s story, however, is a little under thought. Married with a young son, Will comes home one night and upon enquiring who is wife is texting, she refuses to tell him. He goes to snatch the phone and ‘scares her’. Presuming she’s having some sort of affair with an old college buddy (who happens to be a policeman) he picks the guy up, drives him to the middle of nowhere, puts a gun on the dashboard and tells him to stay away from his wife. Unbelievably stupid but that’s fine. My problem isn’t that, my problem is the resolve – which seems to come about solely because she happens to see him on TV. I’m not going to spoil anything but drawing a subplot of that nature to a close by saying, “You’re so brave, come here you” is a tad irresponsible and fucking lazy writing.
As stated above, despite the incredibly straight-forward story and glaringly obvious plot flaws, Scott manages to produce a fairly decent film. I wouldn’t say I’d have the urge to watch it again but I was certainly entertained throughout. Certainly worth a watch if you’re looking for a simple action adrenaline hit.
26th November 2010
The Scene To Look Out For:
Being a 20th Century Fox film, it was increasingly amusing to see the live news coverage segments hosted by the Fox network; in an attempt to add further realism by sporting their own logo, they actually manage to parody themselves. Every five seconds, as if the audience wasn’t aware, a Fox News report would flash up and shout THE DAMAGE WOULD BE CATASTROPHIC! and THE BIGGEST DISASTER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.. EVER! They might as well have said, FUCK ME! TRAIN! THERE’S A FUCKING TRAIN! TRAIN GO BOOOOOM! NO MORE STUFF!
Sure, Washington, Pine, Dawson and Kevin Dunn did a reasonable job but I wouldn’t say any of the characters were really notable for any reason. I could be cocky and moan about how the train is filmed like some heartless monster, rampaging through small-town America.. but I can’t be bothered. Instead, I’ll highlight Lew Temple as Ned the.. well.. I’m not sure exactly what the hell he was. He was just some Southern guy with a pony-tail and a truck who drove around shouting. So, there you go. Ned the train chasing guy, I’ll highlight him.
“Don’t get all sentimental on me, makes me think I’m going to die”
In A Few Words:
“Once again Tony Scott bashes out a mediocre film and prays that the inclusion of Denzel Washington will allow him to recreate the amazing Man On Fire – suffice to say, it doesn’t”