Unstoppable (2010)

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IMDb Rating
6.8 out of 10 (view IMDb page)

Unstoppable, a 20th Century Fox drama about a runaway train carrying a cargo of toxic chemicals. Pits an engineer and his conductor in a race against time. They're chasing the runaway train in a separate locomotive and need to bring it under control

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MPAA Rating:
Action, Drama, Thriller
Tony Scott

Weekly Volcano's Review

Rev. Adam McKinney on November 10th, 2010

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How much money do you suppose Denzel Washington owes Tony Scott? It must be an ungodly sum, considering how frequently Denzel returns to the motion sickness - inducing Tony Scott well. Their love affair began with Crimson Tide, stretched through Man on Fire, Déjà Vu, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and now brings us Unstoppable. What do these films have in common? They all manage to bury Denzel's still-quite-potent charm in an avalanche of hyperactive style.

Apparently based on a true story (more on that later), Unstoppable casts Denzel as a veteran railroad worker who finds that he and his rookie partner (Chris Pine) are the only people capable of stopping an out-of-control, unmanned train. The half-mile-long train is speeding along at upwards of 80 mph, and carries a cargo of several tons of a highly flammable chemical. If it isn't stopped in time, it will reach Stanton, Pennsylvania, derail and destroy several square miles in its wake.

And all of this is ... fine. It's a serviceable plot that utilizes a litany of time-tested clichés, and there are one or two smile-inducing moments. Never mind that the bulk of character development is handled by one character literally turning to another and saying, "So, tell me about yourself." We don't expect depth when it comes to bubblegum fare like Unstoppable.

Where the problems arise, and where they always arise, is with Tony Scott's grotesquely overactive direction. As the millennium came around, it quickly became clear that technology is the worst thing that could have happened to Scott. He simply cannot resist using every single new toy at his disposal. Remember True Romance? As absurd as the movie was, Scott showed the kind of directorial restraint that his projects have been begging for ever since.

Something else to consider: Though the actual date on which this supposedly true story took place is never explicitly said in the movie, we gain through context that Unstoppable takes place roughly in the fall of 2009, which would seem to imply that, almost immediately after this astonishing near-catastrophe happened, Tony Scott and screenwriter Mark Bomback were hard at work writing and filming. Less than a year after the reality, we get to munch popcorn and watch the fiction, comfortable in the knowledge that Stanton was not wiped off the face of the earth.

Some care is taken in establishing certain ancillary characters, like the numbskulls responsible for the runaway train (Ethan Suplee and T.J. Miller) and a safety inspector (Kevin Corrigan, always appreciated) who happens to be visiting dispatch on the day that the train loses control. Although it is pretty frustrating the way that the dispatcher, as played by Rosario Dawson, brushes off the inspector even as it becomes clear that he is far more knowledgeable about trains that she.

But now I tire of writing the word "train." If you are the kind of person who likes (or can at least handle) a ceaselessly moving camera and an overactive editing style, then you may have a better chance at enjoying Unstoppable than I did. I wish that Tony Scott would eventually learn that style will never win out over substance, especially style as hackneyed and in-your-face as the kind he seems to prefer.

Until that day, Mr. Scott and I will maintain our gentleman's agreement in which he continues to direct and I continue to avoid his films. - Two stars

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