“Unstoppable” Movie Review


     Tony Scott’s “Unstoppable” is a thrill ride of a film that skips all of the conventional steps to develop the story or its characters in favor of getting right to the point.  I suppose the average viewer of Unstoppable won’t mind this flaw so I liken this film to jumping on your favorite theme park ride and buckling up.  When the ride is over, discussion will be about how thrilling it was, but you likely won’t have much more to say.  Most of Tony Scott’s previous work (Man on Fire, Top Gun, Crimson Tide) was heavy on the characters and what makes them tick.  Here we meet them and suddenly there is a pending disaster which demands their attention and ours.

     The first few minutes of the film are dedicated to two things happening simultaneously.  The first is the introduction of the film’s two main characters, Frank played by the ever dependable Denzel Washington and Will played by last year’s new Captain Kirk, Chris Pine.  One is on the cusp of retirement and the other about to experience his first day on the job as a railroad conductor.  Their initial dialogue is limited to the standard rules the old guy sets for the new guy.  In other words, do things my way and everything will be fine.  As these two get acquainted, two rail yard workers are shown doing their jobs in a careless manner and thus the film’s plot is set in motion with an unmanned train, a half mile long, going up to 70 miles an hour with no way to stop it!

     You would think it would be simple enough to somehow get someone on the train to manually stop it, but action film rules don’t allow things to be simple.  After the company who owns the train attempts several half baked ideas to stop the train, two men, Frank and Will act with a plan of their own.  You would think the train could keep going without causing a problem, but that is not the case here.  The train is loaded up with toxic chemicals and is heading directly toward a small town where there is a 15 MPH curve the train will not be able to make going 70.  At that point Unstoppable becomes a race against time as the fate of the town hinges on the heroics of Frank and Will.

     As I watched Unstoppable, I couldn’t help but to think this whole unmanned train thing was a bit anticlimactic.  You always had the idea these guys would somehow succeed.  With everyone in the film so faceless, it was really hard to care whether they succeeded or not and that’s the big complaint here.  As previously mentioned, perhaps another 20 minutes of development of the key characters would have increased the intensity.  When people are involved in extraordinary circumstances, we have to know them in order to care about them.  Otherwise they’re just another news story.

     Speaking of news stories.  The way the media is portrayed in this film is hilarious.  Of course several news helicopters are right on top of this train at all times, there to capture anything that goes horribly wrong.  In certain scenes, the helicopters are literally flying beside the train, almost at ground level as our heroes nearly meet certain death.  I was hoping these boneheads would crash right into one of the chemical carrying train cars and end the movie right there.  Courtesy of them, Frank and Will’s respective family members get to watch each of them nearly die live and in high definition!  I’m sure they appreciated the spot on coverage.

     Because of the lack of character development, neither Denzel or Chris Pine are given the opportunity to shine (unless they are both doing their own stunts).  So what we have here is another mindless action film made purely for quick entertainment.  Certainly, the star power alone will be a draw, but I see Unstoppable fizzling into the realm of “What was that train movie we saw last year with Denzel in it?”  GRADE: C