Review: Unstoppable

Films with a tight premise tend to be reliable; so is the combination of director Tony Scott and Denzel Washington. The two have never struck gold, but they’ve produced solid, dependable box-office results and audience approval. “Unstoppable” has and will continue to achieve both. 90 minutes of entertainment can certainly be as good as gold and the film proves it with its straightforward delivery.

Scott and Washington hop from one train premise (2009’s so-so thriller, the remake of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3”) to another. Instead of a hostage situation, however, “Unstoppable” is much simpler: what if a freight train went unmanned at speeds up to 70-plus miles per hour carrying highly explosive materials as part of its mile-long cargo? Minus a personified antagonist in the form a a wack-job (RIP Dennis Hopper), this is “Speed” the train edition.

The plot, which was inspired but not based on a true story, barrels along exactly like Train No. 777. But Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”) doesn’t cut the humanity out of the story. Although not entirely without awkward friction, he slides in the character development and the human angle to keep the story real. Washington’s Frank and Chris Pine’s (“Star Trek”) Will have just enough backstory and believability to up the stakes and provide the motivation necessary for two railroad workers to put it all on the line and go after this train in attempt to slow it down. Sure, it’s a bit weird that Frank would ask Will about the situation with his wife while the two are going backwards on a train at 80-90 mph, but it’s earnest.

In spite of the simplicity of the concept, Scott keeps things intense without overdoing it. The thriller veteran employs a great deal of tactics to increase the apparent magnitude of the situation. The only annoying one (and this is partly on the script) is the overblown live coverage of the event on the news (not to mention unrealistic). The audience knows everything going on; we generally don’t need a newscaster to re-narrate it for us (“it appears he is trying to manually brake the train!”). It gets a little agitating, but the action has your attention in a vice, so it doesn’t matter.

Since “Unstoppable” is sort of a disaster film, Bomback finds ways of making “the man” the antagonist. Initially, it appears as if the railroad company wants to attempt to preserve the train with costs as the primary interest and not derail it and lessen the chance for civilian casualties should the train reach more populated areas. It’s a small peek into how major companies handle PR nightmares such as these. One of the film’s better scenes is when Frank and Will commit to disobeying the orders of the authoritative character, Galvin (Kevin Dunn of “Transformers”) and verbally give him the middle finger.

In essence, “Unstoppable” confines the reach of the film and infuses the core elements with enough guts to make the film entertaining and intriguing despite the sheer simplicity of concept. You wouldn’t expect a film about freight trains to excite anyone except model train collectors, but there’s no lack of intensity. The story certainly fits Scott’s filmmaking style and Washington (as always) and Pine hold up the human aspect.

4/5 Stars

Unstoppable
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by Mark Bomback
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suple
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