Screen Rant's Vic Holtreman Reviews Unstoppable
This is the second "train movie" in a row for director Tony Scott. His previous film was the remake The Taking of Pelham 123, and now we have have Unstoppable, a film "inspired by true events" (aka very loosely based on a real even with many liberties taken). Both films have something in common: A "retro" feel that reminds one of movies made back in the 70s through early 80s.
Unstoppable is loosely based on the story of a runaway train in Ohio back in 2001, where two railroad workers went above and beyond, managing to bring it to a stop. Here the two workers are rookie conductor Will (Chris Pine) and 28 year veteran engineer Frank (Denzel Washington). Frank is a by the book railroad man, going through checklists in a manner that makes him look like an airline pilot prepping a plane for departure. His approach to his job is the complete opposite of the two slackers who set the train in motion - without the air brakes functioning. That last bit is the "gotcha" - as any sort of dead man's switch will not work with those disconnected.
Their lack of care sets an event in motion that puts thousands of people's lives at risk due to the toxic chemical cargo and the fact that the train is set to travel at 70+ miles per hour.
The story takes us through the events, showing them to us from the point of view of Frank and Will (who are drawn into the situation initially unintentionally), the Yardmaster (in charge of the control center) Connie (Rosario Dawson) and the corporate office. As depicted, the main concern of the corporate side is the potential cost impact - although according to Connie derailing the train in an unpopulated area is the best chance to stop the train and avoid a devastating accident, the company decides to try a different method that will potentially save them $100 million.
As you may guess, the corporate strategy fails miserably.
Enter Frank and Will. Frank is more willing to take matters into his own hands to stop the train than Will - until Will learns that the train could make it to Scranton, where his wife and son live - and that is where the accident would happen, causing massive death and destruction. They come up with their own plan, and go against company orders to try to stop the one million pound behemoth from killing thousands of people.
Although the audience should already know how this will turn out, director Tony Scott does an admirable job of keeping the tension throughout the film. Watching events unfold will keep you engaged and on the edge of your seat, while the performances by Denzel and Pine are definitely enough to carry the story. Other than the constant movement of the camera, the style, cinematography and overall look of the film are reminiscent of action dramas from the 70s. This gives the movie a more gritty, realistic feel than it might have had under another director who might have made a polished, shiny film.
Another great thing Scott does here is he is very effective at showing just how dangerous these monstrous trains are. Even before the potential disaster is set in motion you get a feel for how careful the people who work on, around and managing these locomotives must be. There really aren't any lulls in the film - it's suspenseful from start to finish, and the lack of CGI (as far as I could tell) just adds to the impact and experience.
For those worrying that all you'll notice on the screen is Captain Kirk, the film does an excellent job of "de-Kirking" Chris Pine right from the start of the film. He looks rough and tumble, unshaven and is visibly shaken by the recent estrangement between him and his wife not long ago - caught up in the pain and regret of being separated from his family due to a stupid mistake. He gives a good performance - good enough that he draws you in far enough that you'll see him only as "Will" and not... James. :)
As for Denzel Washington, what can you say? The man is an awesome actor and has a magnetic screen presence. I'll go see pretty much any film he's in. He can play anyone from a polished businessman to a blue collar worker, and you'll buy it every time.
Is there some deep, complex story here? No. But is it an effective, gripping action-drama that will leave you satisfied when the credits role? Yes, indeed.
Here's the trailer for Unstoppable:
If you want to talk about details of the film without worrying about spoiling it for others, head on over to our Unstoppable spoilers discussion.
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