Cast: Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington), Will Colson (Chris Pine), Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), Dewey (Ethan Suplee), Oscar Galvin (Kevin Dunn)
Director: Tony Scott
Theatrical release: 11/12/2010
DVD Date: 02/15/2011
Running Time: 98 minutes
— ♦ —
Review: The premise of this film is simple: a driverless, runaway train rolling through Pennsylvania at high speed and the attempts to stop it before it derails, spilling its toxic cargo and causing widespread death and destruction. There are many films that use all sorts of variations on this theme, some of which work well, others not so much. In fact, Tony Scott directed a very similar film in 2009, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, also starring -- coincidentally? -- Denzel Washington. While I enjoyed The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, I think Unstoppable is a better movie. And here's why.
Denzel Washington (Frank) and Chris Pine (Will) share an easy rapport on screen. The initial scenes set up their differences, professional and personal, but they quickly bond in the engine of the train they're driving, and it looks and feels natural. It also makes it more believable when they make the decision to stop the runaway train -- Triple 7 to the engineers -- on their own after all other attempts have failed.
The pacing of the film also works in its favor. Frank and Will are made aware of events as they unfold by their station master, Connie (Rosario Dawson, another strong performance). They aren't involved in stopping Triple 7 until around the midway point, giving a nice balance to the storyline. That doesn't mean there isn't much action during the first half; if anything, Unstoppable rarely takes a break. It's definitely a thrill-driven film, but not a frantic one, again striking a good balance between discussions involving strategies to stop, and the consequences of failing to stop, the runaway train.
Where the film doesn't quite work is in what I'll loosely call the obligatory, oh-so predictable setups and scenes. The film's premise works all on its own without the need to manufacture more drama, but indeed, that is what happens. Independently, Frank and Will have (no surprise here) unresolved family issues. One or the other, Frank's or Will's problems, would have been enough to feature. (In a truly odd scene, Will's wife, watching him on television via a news feed from a tracking helicopter, tries to call him on his cell phone while he is frantically trying to stop Triple 7, apparently deciding that his time would be better spent talking to her instead of, you know, saving thousands of lives. No, he doesn't pick up the phone. My review would have been very different had he done so.) Close calls are also introduced involving both children and animals. Again, neither are necessary but one of the other would have been sufficient. A few laws of physics are broken here and there, but that's only to be expected in film such as this. And (of course) the villains of the film are the corporate executives, who are depicted as putting the needs of their shareholders above the safety of the community. Never mind that it was the dumb act of an employee that started the whole mess, a fact that is conveniently forgotten until just before the credits roll. But these are relatively minor annoyances in a film that largely kept me on the edge of my seat, as it were.
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