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(20th Century Fox)
Inspired by actual events, “Unstoppable” is an adrenaline rush fueled by director Tony Scott’s signature mark of propulsive action rooted in the reality of ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances. A veteran train engineer (Denzel Washington) and a young conductor (Chris Pine) race the clock to stop an unmanned runaway train – effectively a missile the size of a skyscraper -- and prevent disaster in a heavily populated area
Denzel Washington must have an interest in trains lately. He recently starred with John Travolta in the 2009 subway remake, “The Taking of Pelham 123.” On the other hand, maybe director Tony Scott is the one with the fascination with trains (his last film was directing “Pelham”) or he loves to work with leading man Washington again (Scott’s 5th effort with Washington, starting with 1995’s “Crimson Tide,” 2004’s “Man on Fire” and 2006’s “Déjà Vu”). In any case, Scott and Washington hit the tracks again in “Unstoppable.”
“Unstoppable” is loosely based on an actual true story, when in 2001, a runaway train – containing thousands of gallons of molten phenol -- travels through Ohio without its engineer on board. The movie shares some of the real-life incident, including how the engineer left the controls to jump out of the train and switch tracks, how a second train attaches itself to the runaway, and both carrying toxic and dangerous chemicals in the tanker cars. While the real-life train is traveling around 47 miles an hour, the “Unstoppable” train in the film is going 70 miles. Additionally, the film has the added attraction of a dangerous curve on a raised bridge, which can easily derail fast-moving trains and combust the chemicals on board, which could wipe out an entire city. Of course when it’s an action-thriller, the incident has to be supersized.
Does the “supersizing” actually help the story and action sequences? Yes, it does in this case. Director Scott, who is known for action in such films as “Crimson Tide,” “Days of Thunder,” and “Top Gun,” does bring the action to your face as the huge mammoth is heading toward destroying everything in its path. What makes the film riveting is to realize that we are actually watching real trains on the screen. No CGI (computer-generated imagery) are here when it comes to the trains and stunts. Scott decided to go old-school in filmmaking with real stuntmen. When you see someone jumping from train to train, it was real. I give Scott and his film team credit for making a feature with some realism.
As for characters, Washington plays Frank Barnes, the longtime railroad engineer, who gets a new trainmate, the younger and just out-of-training conductor Will Colson (“Star Trek’s” Chris Pine). While Barnes’ days as an engineer is coming to a close and Colson is having issues with his wife, the two men do not hit it off in the beginning as the newbie disputes the veteran. But as the film progresses, the operators must work together to assist in stopping the runaway train. Rosario Dawson plays Connie Hooper, a train dispatcher, who works with Barnes and Colson as their “traffic” controller.
While Scott is also known for mixing good drama with action and Mark Bomback for screenwriting “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Deception,” I felt exploring the lead characters’ backgrounds was a waste a time ... and really unnecessary. Even though brief in the full scope of the film, Barnes’ and Colson’s personal issues didn’t bring much to the movie; it does become the weakest part of the script. As always, the performances by Washington, Pine and Dawson are fine, but their discussion scenes actually slow down the film from the train action. The train is the star and villain at the same time.
There are some “yeah, right” moments, like why didn’t other train personals help the inept operator when he couldn’t get back onto the slow-moving train or how come only Barnes is the only one who can figure out the problems before the other professionals with calculators and maps. Another one (or actually two) is how many times is another train going to miss another train in a head on collision with seconds to spare. Beyond that, the story is simple to understand and there’s no outrageous plot to distract.
So is “Unstoppable” worth viewing…I say “Yes.” Enjoy the film as it is – an energetic, fast-moving man vs. machine feature. “Unstoppable” boasts beautiful shots, some heart-pumping action, and it brings back a lost art form that doesn’t rely on everything CGI to enhance a film.
Richard R. Lee is the creator, executive producer and occasional on-air personality for the "Sidewalks Entertainment" project. His primary interest is in television programming and TV news. Although he views a variety of programs, he enjoys primarily sci-fi, comedy and adventure series, such as "Star Trek," "Firefly," "Battlestar Galactica," "Jericho," the "Stargate" shows, "Alien Nation," "Bosom Buddies," and "MacGyver." Additionally, he samples many of the entertainment talk shows and has seen many of the biggest shows hosted by Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, and Jay Leno.
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