MOVIE REVIEW: UNSTOPPABLE (2010)
By Michael Arruda
UNSTOPPABLE (2010) is the latest teaming of director Tony Scott and lead actor Denzel Washington. It’s the story of a freight train accidentally set in motion by a nincompoop of an employee who carelessly allows it to take off on its own. Oops!
It’s Will’s (Chris Pine) first day on the job, and he is paired up with Frank (Denzel Washington), a veteran with 28 years experience as a railroad conductor. There’s tension between the two almost immediately, as Frank views Will as a threat to his job, since the railroad company has been forcing experienced workers into early retirement and giving their jobs to the younger men just joining the company. Will tries to tell Frank that it’s not that way at all, that he’s not after his job, but as Frank explains, that’s not how the majority of the workers see it.
Meanwhile, the company has a runaway train on its hands, giving the regional coordinator Connie (Rosario Dawson) a major problem to deal with, especially since the train is carrying toxic materials. If the train derails or crashes, it will explode, creating a disaster of epic proportions since it’s traveling through a densely populated area. To make matters worse, the higher-ups in the company are more concerned with how the incident will affect the company’s stocks, and so they make hasty decisions in order to quickly quell the situation.
These boneheaded decisions provide plenty of excuses to show some cinematic rescue operations, including an exciting sequence where the attempt is made to slow the train down by placing another train in front of it, while at the same time lowering a man from a helicopter so he can get inside the train and manually stop it. I guess these folks never watched the old AIRPORT movies from the 1970s. This sort of thing never worked, and it doesn’t work here.
Of course, as everyone expects, it’s going to be up to Denzel Washington and Chris Pine to save the day. Frank believes that the only way to stop a train that large going that fast is to come up behind it with another train, hook onto the runaway, and then gradually slow it down. And so, this is exactly what Frank and Will set out to do. How they go about doing this, and the problems they face, make for some exciting cinema.
There’s no shortage of excitement in UNSTOPPABLE. It is a little short on depth, though, but the exciting train sequences and fine acting performances more than make up for it.
Director Tony Scott, Ridley Scott’s brother, has a directorial resume a mile long, including three recent movies also starring Denzel Washington, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3 (2009), DÉJÀ VU (2006), and MAN ON FIRE (2004). While I liked MAN ON FIRE a lot, some of Scott’s movies have played like elongated music videos [He’s the man, after all, who brought us TOP GUN (1986)].
The acting is excellent. What more can one say about Denzel Washington, except that he almost always delivers a compelling performance. He’s extremely enjoyable to watch, and UNSTOPPABLE, while no classic, provides him with better material than he had to deal with in THE BOOK OF ELI (2010)) which we saw way back in January of this year.
Chris Pine as Will is just as effective here as he was playing Captain Kirk in the recent STAR TREK (2009) movie. When Pine and Washington’s characters decide to play hero, you believe them. You believe that they really would do this, and that they could pull it off.
Rosario Dawson also delivers a strong performance as Connie, the woman behind the scenes giving all the pertinent information—most of it bad—to Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. She also has the unenviable position of having to deal with the headstrong higher-ups in the company who constantly make the wrong decisions. Dawson recently appeared in GRINDHOUSE (2008) and SIN CITY (2005).
Lew Temple also stands out as Ned, Connie’s go-to guy in the company. Ned spends most of the movie chasing down the runaway train in his pick-up truck, accompanied by a police escort. His scenes are lively and memorable.
Then there’s the train itself. Huge, menacing, roaring along the tracks at speeds in excess of 75 miles per hour, it comes off as almost alive, like the uncontrollable beast in a giant monster movie.
In terms of suspense, UNSTOPPABLE doesn’t miss too many beats. Director Tony Scott is quite adept at setting up suspense scenes in the dramatic disaster film fashion.
Writer Mark Bomback, who also wrote LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007), deserves credit for setting up a tight story (the movie clocks in at a brisk 98 minutes) about a runaway train and the two men who decide that they have the wherewithal and ability to stop it.
Where UNSTOPPABLE does lag is in its character development. While I enjoyed the two main characters, Frank and Will (as played by Washington and Pine) a lot, the movie would have benefited from more screen time from both of these guys. While we do get some background story on them, it’s mostly fluff. Frank has two beautiful adult daughters who he loves very much, and his wife had recently died of cancer. Will is separated from his wife and child, and the story of what precipitated this separation, Will’s jealous confrontation with a cop, is ludicrous and lame.
I also would have liked more screen time for Rosario Dawson. All three of these characters are compelling and believable, and the movie’s just begging for them to be in it more.
One thing I did find annoying were the CNN style scenes of “breaking news” coverage. I know, this was supposed to add to the realism, to make the movie more suspenseful, by making the audience feel as if the events in the movie were really happening, but all these scenes did for me was make me feel as if I were watching the news on TV, and I don’t like watching the news on TV. I found these scenes distracting, and they detracted from the movie’s cinematic feel.
But for the most part, UNSTOPPABLE succeeds in what it sets out to do, which is generate some pretty good suspense around a story of a runaway train.
UNSTOPPABLE is a high energy exciting thrill ride, and with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine at the helm, it soars all the way to its riveting climax.
I give it 3 knives.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda