The biggest surprise about Unstoppable is that the film is surprisingly much better than you would expect. The story about an unmanned runaway train seems predictable from the onset, or just from the preview trailers. Superb performances from Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson are equally matched with Director Tony Scott’s methodical pacing. Each moment as the train builds momentum, so do the performances and direction. For Scott, it feels like Unstoppable was a much-needed correction to the rehashed mishap of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, making Unstoppable one of the frontrunners for top action film of the Fall.
Unstoppable begins with Will (Pine) starting a new job as a train conductor. His appearance at the rail station serves as a slap in the face to the old-timers, one of which is the veteran Frank (Washington). The two are paired together in what seems to be a cliché veteran-rookie relationship. Frank is in the twilight of his career, while Will gets promoted quickly due to his family connections. On the other side of Pennsylvania, a freight train is getting ready to make a routine run. Unfortunately, a dim-witted Dewey (Ethan Suplee) hops out of the train, leaving the massive mechanical behemoth on a one-way course of destruction.
If you’re thinking, “Poppycock, that can never happen,” – think again. The story is based on a true story in 2001 of a train that sped out of control through Ohio. And, while this story sounds a little bit like Speed meets any Denzel movie, that film actually has several small nuances that make it skyrocket out of the confines of the mundane.
The cinematography, by Ben Seresin, really becomes a character in this film thanks to Scott. Whereas most films tend to build theatrics through digital enhancements, Unstoppable benefits from its Industrial Age feel. This is not a period piece, yet it feels that way. Everything takes place in and outside of small towns. The setting feels like the last bastion of blue-collar livelihood. Typically, any movie with an imminent danger to a given population has to surround a metropolitan area with near-cataclysmic destruction. Screenwriter Mark Bomback realized that you don’t have to set a movie in LA, Washington DC, London or New York for danger to exist. The potential loss of tens to hundreds of lives is just as tragic as the potential loss of thousands to millions of lives.
Scott also brings the railroad trains to life in Unstoppable. Close up shots from every possible angle of train gears, wheels and track slowly make audiences fully appreciate the danger of railroad life. These are equally balanced with several long shots that make you appreciate and fear this several car train. It’s a world that’s removed from most people. However, for the hour and thirty-eight minutes you sit in the theater, you will be transported into that world. The grinding sounds of steel are as heart pounding, as are the visual images.
Washington and Pine create a Zen relationship of shidoshi and student. While Frank may know the tracks from experience he is resigned to turn over the reigns to the next generation. Washington repeatedly adds wit to the serious story helping this to stay out of the realms of his more gloomy melodramas like John Q.
Unstoppable is a modern day tribute to blue-collar workers and definitely worth seeing in theaters.