Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, Jessy Schram
Director: Tony Scott
Writer(s): Mark Bomback
Cinematography: Ben Seresin
Original Score: Harry Gregson-Williams
Running Time: 98 mins.
This year we have already seen one freight train hurtle through a blockbuster, and now upon the year’s end you get another although this one certainly isn’t unexpected as its Inception based counterpart and rather than appearing in a dream world the world of Unstoppable is very much a “real world” occurence, especially given we are told from the off that this is “inspired by true events” as unlikely as it may seem. Thankfully Unstoppable is almost as entertaining as Inception though not nearly as cerebral, but it never aims to be, and despite the true story credentials this is pure B-movie plotting by numbers, something which can be a godsend in the right hands. That Unstoppable is directed by the more schizophrenic (in terms of flash bang visuals) of the Scott brothers, Tony, it was unlikely to find hands that are any better or more accomplished in the high concept movie-making arena.
That Scott brought us Man On Fire, Deja Vu and The Taking of Pelham 123 (another train based action/drama/thriller) in recent years you will know what to expect, these are hardly masterpieces of modern cinema but they all possess a certain pizzazz in their direction and editing, Scott seems to have nurtured his own auteur style that consists of fast cuts, dramatic camera zooms and an almost documentary style blur to suggest an erratic and intense tone. Furthermore it actually works a dream especially along-side the bleached visuals that are punctuated with blurs of intense colour, if your a fan of the blurred jump cut Tony Scott is your go-to guy!
The beauty of Unstoppable is how pacey it is, very few films come in at the 90 ish minute mark nowadays, with editors and directors favouring drawn out and often dull characterisation of nasty love stories, or needless side-plots to pad out an otherwise perfunctory tale, not here, here we switch between Washington and Pine’s odd couple conductors/engineers and Dawson’s controller, both out to achieve the same goal, to stop the “unstoppable” train. how said train started it’s journey is inconsequential and thankfully there is no needless back story or villain who has set the train on it’s course of impending destruction, again this comes as something of a shock given the usual feeling that there should be a conventional villain. All of which places Unstoppable more firmly in disaster movie territory rather than another Taking of Pelham 123 to which this will likely, and unfairly, be compared.
As Washington and Pine chase down the train there is inevitable odd couple rapport, but it never jars or feels forced, blessed with two men who bounce well of each other from the off and even if the stereotypical differences are overcome to reach the end that will inevitably see them win out over the giant behemoth of a train the clichés are never too overt relying on the lead’s easy chemistry that will likely have you wanting a Washington/Pine re-team very soon, it is all the more impressive given how domineering Washington can be when he is in loud/authoritative mode, something which is evident here but nuanced to match the performance, his character is an everyday train conductor not a power-hungry cop or a over-bearing lieutenant. In this sense comparisons to Pelham 123 can more feasibly be drawn.
The action isn’t so much in the set pieces, though there are a handful of great ones, rather the constant ever looming threat of the train, it is made a character in its own right, as powerful as anything you have seen on-screen all year and all the more scary for it, significantly to the point where you wonder if our heroes will be able to stop it. In a film this slight in its concept minor flaws are bound to occur, attempts at fleshing out the back story of Washington and pine are not always successful, adding little to the film or the character and simply there to provide a little more emotional heft in the closing moments but were the emotion not drawn from this scenario we would likely find ourselves labouring over lengthy and hackneyed back story that unstoppable commendably keeps to a minimum, in that sense it’s hardly a film to set you thinking but for pure non-stop thrills you will struggle to find any better.
Washington and Pine are a great odd-couple, but Unstoppable is won on it’s hurtling visuals and break-neck pace that gives little time over to the melodramatic and drawn out side-plotting we have become accustomed to in our blockbusters, perfect friday night fodder.