A film about a runaway train would appear to be pretty one dimensional — on the surface there are only so many ways you can dress it up. You’d be pleasantly surprised to find that Unstoppable, Tony Scott’s latest, about such a train, offers more than just an angry locomotive hurtling down a track. It does, however, offer plenty of that too.
Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and Will Colson (Chris Pine) are an uneasy pairing. Frank is circling the drain — being pushed aside for younger blood. Will is the younger blood. Both, for the sake of drama, have their own set of personal issues. When the yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) informs them that they’re sharing the track with an unmanned, high speed train, they put their differences aside; squabbles mean nothing when a town of thousands is in harm’s way (it also helps to add that it’s also home to Will’s family). The intensity factor is ramped up further — the train is loaded with a combination of combustible liquids and poisonous gas (cos why wouldn’t you transport both on the same run?).
“We’re not just talking about a train,” Connie tells them. “We’re talking about a missile the size of the Chrysler building.” Now that’s a big missile.
And so the thrills and action begins. Attempts to gain control of “The Beast”, as the locomotive is known, are put into motion. They fail. Before you ask, of course it would be easier to derail the train somewhere unpopulated but the corporate suits, led by Galvin (Kevin Dunn), are more concerned with the costs associated with that scenario. Frank and Will devise a plan to use their locomotive and the remainder of Unstoppable is a high powered adrenaline rush.
A bus full of school children is narrowly missed as the train chugs along ever closer to certain disaster.
Tony Scott, who has been involved with his share of recent action missteps (The A-Team, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), has regrouped and learned from his mistakes. No fancy shots — although he shoots the action from a dizzying array of angles, he keeps everything real and focused, and no bullshit — Frank and Will are blue collar guys putting their life on the line for the greater good and Scott treats it as such.
Denzel Washington is no stranger to being the blue collar man stuck in an extraordinary situation, therefore his presence in Unstoppable is understood; hell, it is expected. His stately demeanor keeps the chaotic proceedings grounded and very believable. I had my reservations about Chris Pine when I first heard he had second billing, but he comes across very convincing as well. The eventual growth and respect these characters exhibit and earn for each other as the action unfolds is handled extremely well and makes for a nice addition to the movie too.
Scott, however, could have done away with some of the superfluous side story drama — we don’t need to be constantly reminded that Will is recently separated from his wife and child nor that Frank is having issues connecting with his teenaged daughters. We’re already sold on the fact these are ordinary guys with everyday problems. Thankfully, they’re minor bumps in the track for Unstoppable and don’t tremendously detract from the whole. Actually, come to think of it, there isn’t much that could have overcome the thrill ride that is this movie. Expect it to barrel over the weekend competition.