Unstoppable *** ½
Directed by: Tony Scott.
Written By: Mark Bomback.
Starring: Denzel Washington (Frank), Chris Pine (Will), Rosario Dawson (Connie), Ethan Suplee (Dewey), Kevin Dunn (Galvin), Kevin Corrigan (Inspector Werner), Kevin Chapman (Bunny), Lew Temple (Ned).
Unstoppable moves at breakneck speed pretty much from its opening frame to the closing one. The storyline is simple – lovable loser Dewey (Ethan Suplee) is supposed to move a train off the tracks, but screws up. They don’t put the air brakes on, and when he gets close to the switching point, he realizes that it hasn’t been moved over yet. He has 39 cars, and backing it up would take too long. So he gets out of the cab, leaving the train unmanned to, to pull the switch. But then, the train speeds up, and he can’t get back in. He was supposed to set it in a position where the train wouldn’t speed up, but that didn’t happen either. Essentially, what he has done and put the pedal to the metal of an unmanned train, caring toxic chemicals that could wipe out an entire small town, and then let it get away from him. The train, no unmanned and picking up speed cannot be stopped.
Frank (Denzel Washington) and Will (Chris Pine) are on another train. He is the wily veteran close to retirement, he is a trainee, learning the ropes from him. When they hear about the train, and the ill advised efforts to stop it, they are mystified by how it could happen. Yet Frank also has an idea on how to stop the train. If he can catch up with the train, he can latch onto its last car, and gun his engine in the opposite direction – which may or may not stop the train, but may slow it down enough to allow someone to get on it.
And that’s it. That’s the movie. A very simple set-up and story, no real character development to speak of, no real memorable dialogue. The movie is essentially a chase between these two trains, and damn if if it isn’t one of the most entertaining action films you will see this year.
I have had a love hate relationship with the recent films of Tony Scott. He has gone wildly over the top stylistically in films like Man on Fire, Domino, Déjà vu and The Taking of Pelham 123. His films call attention to themselves, but not always in a good way. And yet, when they work, as this one does, they are also adrenaline rushes that few, if any, other action filmmakers in America can match right now. You may not call them intelligent movies – they really aren’t – but they are entertaining as hell.
I’m not sure if Unstoppable is the best of his recent work – I know a lot of people hated both Man on Fire and Domino, but I highly enjoyed both of them as well. But what Unstopplable does have what those other films don’t, is a stripped to the bone storyline, and that suits Scott well. He doesn’t have to spend time on what he doesn’t do very well – character development – and instead gets to go balls out into action filmmaking, and that he does amazingly well. The film is full of exciting setpieces – chases and crashes and people screaming at each other. Scott does do a good job at showing us how this happened, and what is being done to stop it. Washington, Pine and Rosario Dawson, as the woman at mission control talking them through it are actually quite good in their roles – or as good as they possibly can be anyway, given what they are required to do.
Unstoppable is one of those action movies where you simply kick back, relax, turn your brain off and go for the ride. If you can do that – and the movie moves so quickly it makes that fairly easy to do – you will most likely be entertained by the film. If you can’t, you won’t. You already know which category you fall into.