Unstoppable – Movie Review

A gripping yarn about a half mile long runaway train headed for a residential elevated curve line, which is dangerous enough, parked right next to massive vats of oil.  Hmm. City planning aside, Unstoppable puts us on track to an exciting, lean, and mean adventure for which we pretty much know the outcome but will suspend to take the ride.
Oh and the train is carrying combustible materials and there’s another nareby containgina load of children.  It’s in trouble and can’t brake because a lazy, good for nothing train worker screwed up the works due to his carelessness and impatience.  No one’s on it and it’s too fast to catch.

Leading the team are Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and director Tony Scott.  Rosario Dawson is the quick thinking Yard Master and the rest of the ensemble is comprised of well known television actors all of which makes this an interesting ensemble.

Washington is Frank Barnes, a plain spoken, pleasant veteran of the rails, who is partnering with a newbie with connections on his first big assignment.  Their opposite reactions to the pickle they’re in – having to catch the train – speak volumes. 

Barnes is positively jolly as the train speeds out of control.  It’s his comfort zone, apparently.  His jokes and observations fly as thick and fast as the train while Chris Pine, the barssy newbie Will, digs through every brain cell to get the thing to stop while obsessing over his estranged wife and child.

But the cliches don’t end with this uneasy, generation spanning relationship.  Frank forgot to wish his daughter a Happy Birthday and Will wants his family back.  The idea is, if the train goes down, and they die, there will be unhappy women who could have been happy with just another day to sort things out. 

And by the way, it’s one of Frank’s last runs before retirement (!!!!).  These traditional “subplots” or annoyances are always tired and groan-worthy and they always nearly ruin a movie.

Even so,  Unstoppable is tight, crisply edited, well paced, with plenty of big noises and visual effects, and the feel of a massive locomotive bearing down seems real.  It’s highly cinematic for a story based rather loosely on a real life incident and that’s an achievement.  The $100M budget had to cover a lot of metal, one supposes.

Unstoppable is old fashioned filmmaking, a real world based, jolts-per-minute exercise well suited to the Ridley /Washington team.  It’s their second runaway train outing in a year following The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3- in 2009 and it sticks to the same rules.  So why even do it? 
Unstoppable is a good film, but it’s not a necessary one.  It’s no better than The Taking of Pelham and adds little to the principals’ stock.  It brings to mind the quirky, chilling film Runaway Train with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts and the Burt Lancaster nail biter The Train, two really good train films.

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35mm action thriller
Written by Mark Bomback
Directed by Tony Scott
Opens: Nov. 12
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language
Country: USA