Words: Saam Das
'Unstoppable' (UK Release: 24 Nov '10)
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee
Before going to see Tony Scott's latest train-related film 'Unstoppable', I was already mentally preparing hilarious wordplay...."unstoppably awful", "unstoppably banal" and so on, and so forth. Clearly, I had low expectations. After all, Tony Scott's last film, a not-overly-well-received remake of 'The Taking Of Pelham 123', also starred Denzel Washington and a train. Thankfully, 'Unstoppable' is very much a return to the Scott of old, responsible for the likes of 'Top Gun', 'Crimson Tide' and 'Enemy Of The State'.
'Unstoppable', if you haven't quite figured it out by now, is about efforts to stop a runaway train. The opening sees Randy (Ethan Suplee) from 'My Name Is Earl' transpose his bumbling character from that TV show onto the big screen causing an unmanned train to travel "under power". This transforms the train from an ambling and more easily stoppable "coaster" into a roaring, runaway train travelling at speeds of 70 miles per hour. Worse yet, it's carrying molten phenol. Which does something or another and is generally really quite bad for you.
After a kerfuffle here and there and having to listen to some hokey back stories, it's up to rookie conductor Chris Pine and veteran train driver Denzel Washington to save the day. A few other characters get thrown into the mix to help stop the train, such as maverick "lead welder" Lew Temple and Rosario Dawson as yardmaster and supervisor at mission control, as well as some meddling corporate types with a clichéd lack of concern for anyone but themselves. But really it's all about Pine and Washington and the train. Although that doesn't stop Dawson getting possibly the most ridiculous line of dialogue I've heard this year: "We're not just talking about a train. We're talking about a missile the size of the CHRYSLER BUILDING!"
'Unstoppable' is undoubtedly a big, dumb action film. But it's a (mostly) well made one. Scott conveys the threat of the train particularly well, with it no longer simply being a train but instead, a behemoth capable of destroying anything in its path. The action set pieces are supported by a score reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's efforts on 'The Dark Knight' providing incisive strings to ramp up the tension. Unfortunately, that hard earned tension somewhat dissipates toward the end and the resolution is overwhelmingly anticlimactic.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the film is just how much of it was based on actual events. In 2001, there was a runaway train in the US, which also carried molten phenol and whose journey began in a surprisingly similar manner to the fumblings in 'Unstoppable'. Indeed, even some of the ridiculous methods used in the film (Exhibit A: the police trying to shoot a switch right next to fuel tanks) to try to stop the train heavily reflect what actually went on. Hopefully someone at the time called the train a "torpedo the size of the Eiffel Tower". Or something like that anyway.
Unstopp-able? More like enjoyable. 'Unstoppable' only really disappoints at its finale but then sometimes it's worth making a journey just for the ride. And 'Unstoppable' certainly provides a thrilling and forceful ride, approaching the upper echelons of Tony Scott's back catalogue of action films.
'Unstoppable is on wide release across the UK now.