Film Lock: Unstoppable

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A freight train filled to the brim with dangerous chemicals barrels towards a city, and it’s up to a veteran engineer and a young rookie conductor to chase it down and bring it to a stop before it wipes that city out. Yes, it’s one of those kinds of films, but it’s a good example of those kinds of films. Director Tony Scott (of Top Gun fame) has brought us a truly enjoyable action popcorn thriller.

The film’s two main stars are Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington and the Star Trek remake’s Chris Pine as the aforementioned engineer and conductor, respectively. The film begins with the train going out of control due to an engineer forgetting to put the brakes on it, but the two main characters only run into it halfway into the film, and most of their times spent together is spent ruminating on the state of the economy and each of their ties with their families. Running the rescue operation is Rosario Dawson (of Sin City and Death Proof), who interfaces between Washington and Pine’s characters, a corrupt executive who wants to derail the train in the worst possible location, and Ned, a madcap welder chasing after the train in his truck.

One major advantage the movie over to other movies of its type is the fact that all the special effects involved are actual special effects; no CGI. This gives the action on screen a much greater dramatic pulse than it would otherwise have, and director Tony Scott definitely still has the eye for exciting action that he had in his Top Gun days. Surprisingly, the movie’s plot is based on an actual runaway train incident that occurred in Ohio in 2001, and based on my research, it’s very accurate to the incident in spite of the dramatization needed to make a movie out of it.

Unfortunately, the movie ends up being hampered by character and acting problems. Most of the characters are cookie-cutter stereotypes, even more so than you usually get with the high-concept popcorn genre; the sarcastic veteran being paired with the eager rookie; the sassy woman calling the shots; the corrupt corporate executive, and so on. Washington and Pine have some pretty good chemistry together, but most of Washington’s performance is a far cry from his usual work (the way he tells his daughters he loves them while facing probable death, you’d think he was placing an order for ball-point pens). Also, for a film that lives and dies by exciting train sequences, the way some of the scenes are shot leaves a lot to be desired.

In spite of all that, I’d still recommend this film to anyone who likes a good thriller that lets you turn your brain off while watching. You could probably think of Unstoppable as a less sporadic, more grounded (no pun intended) version of Snakes on a Plane, and if you go into it with that mindset, you’ll probably have a good time. Unstoppable gets seven stars out of ten. You can watch it at the Ashland Street Cinema from November 16 to November 23.

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