I hear the train a’comin’
It’s rollin’ ‘round the bend . . .
–Johnny Cash, “Folsom Prison Blues”
Since the trans-continental railroad was constructed in the 1800s, there have been countless accidents and mishaps in the railroad industry. Some were more severe than others. Of course this is inevitable in any business. Things are bound to go wrong. Once steam locomotives went the way of the dinosaur and were replaced by big monster diesel engines, the railroading business opened itself up to more problems. Unstoppable is the dramatized account of one potentially disastrous problem that took place in mid-Ohio some years ago. The plot of the film (though mostly fictional) goes something like this: It seems that through an unfortunate series of events involving stupidity and bad luck, a monstrous, half-mile long power train carrying tanks of highly toxic and flammable substances was let loose unmanned onto the mainline of a Pennsylvania railroad. The train quickly reached dangerous speeds of up to eighty miles per hour and soon the media, the citizens, and especially railroad personnel realized they had a serious situation on their hands. Out of all this chaos, two railroad workers (played by Washington and Pine) took it upon themselves to track down and stop this monster before it crashed and spread its toxic waste everywhere. Here is the story of the battle to stop this thing.
Tony Scott’s fast editing / action movie approach to the material is effective to say the least. The pacing of the film is just perfect and although it’s not going to win any awards, Unstoppable is a pleasing and suspenseful motion picture that I’m certainly glad I went to see. While this isn’t an action film per se, it certainly puts us on the edge of our seat waiting to see what happens next like any good action film would. In some of the final scenes of the movie I found myself leaning forward in my seat, hoping to God Washington and Pine would pull the rescue off. Now of course I knew what would happen and I’m sure so did you. Even if you didn’t watch the news coverage of this disaster you know that if certain things don’t happen there would be no point in making the picture. However, this does not harm the film in any way. Although it can’t exactly be considered a suspense masterpiece in any way shape or form, the movie effectively creates an appropriate amount of anxiety for us (the audience) to enjoy. Sometimes the movie makes you squirm in some of the more action packed scenes. Not once in this picture did I ever find myself bored or counting ceiling panels. It’s an intriguing and dynamic movie that captured my attention and never let it go. Now perhaps it’s forgettable to a certain extent, but for the ninety-eight minutes in which this movie inhabited my life, I was interested although not completely immersed in it.
Of course this is quite the Hollywood production, full of big stunts and grandiose special effects (praise God this wasn’t in 3D! ), but I enjoyed it well enough to be happy about it. There wasn’t a scene I didn’t see coming, but did it matter? Did it lessen my enjoyment of the movie? Not in the least. Now, the story works well and the plot is exciting, but the story filler is typical Hollywood. We never connect with the characters and whether they live or die doesn’t really make much of a difference. They just inhabit this world that’s only about getting from point A to point B. All of the characters are from the “character bank” of the screenwriters’ guild. This is the place where all of the generic Hollywood screenwriters go to pick up characters when they can’t think of anything new to do. In this movie they picked up Mr. Down-and-Out, Sir I’m Old so I’m Better, Madame Headstrong Woman, Corporate Imbecile Guy, and the Gilbert Gottfried Character and throw them all together to inhabit this screenplay. They don’t say anything original or insightful; they just keep the movie alive. But what the movie looses in dull characters and generic dialogue, it makes up in great pacing and a wonderful feeling of suspense.
Really I think that this movie is just about as good as it could have been. It’s a perfect popcorn flick if I ever saw one, but it’s still just a popcorn flick. If there could only be one flaw to diagnose this film with, it would be found in the source material and the screenplay which is generic, yet fortunately well-paced. Although the movie certainly inhabits the world of “same old, same old” stories, it’s not off-putting. I liked it. In fact I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. The movie filled its quota, and that’s good enough for me. Simply put: this motion picture is a great thrill that won’t stick in your mind very long. In fifty years I’ll probably not remember three minutes of this movie and it certainly won’t be any sort of classic. But as an afternoon of thrilling escapism and Hollywood illusion, the movie succeeds very well. Anyway, I was very pleased with Unstoppable, perhaps more than I should be.
Twentieth Century Fox and Prospect Park present a Scott Free Production
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan, Jessy Schram, Lew Temple. Directed by Tony Scott
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language. Release Date: 12 November 2010