Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Mark Bomback
Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, and Kevin Dunn
If you explain the basic concept of this movie (man v. physics) or any of the countless others it borrows from, people may think it sounds dull. In the movies, time is one of the biggest perpetuaters of suspense and conflict. Diffuse the bomb, rescue the falling citizen, stop the train- we’ve seen it all and then some when it comes to race against the clock movies. In the hands of a Hitchcock it can be a deadly, precise cinematic weapon. Tony Scott also knows how to utilize it with his series of fast cuts and unnerving suspense, and his characters are always racing against some kind of clock, but I don’t need to say that he’s no Hitchcock.
Here, Denzel Washington (returning from Scott’s only just-forgotten The Taking of Pelham 123) plays Frank, a 28-year blue collar railway veteran getting ready to endure a forced retirement. By his side is newbie Will (Chris Pine), a typically spunky up-and-comer who got this job because of who he knows at the top. Time makes another appearance here in this attempted generational conflict. Mediating this conflict in a command center is Connie (Rosario Dawson), who helps Will and Frank against the orders from her corporate masters.
There should be resentment and conflict, but Scott is more worried about his hurtling train setpiece than his characters. He gives them time to converse as they hurtle down the track after the runaway train, but none of it resonates, and none of it is really important. Washington and Pine are both admirably upbeat in their dumbed down role, and manage to salvage a little bit of fun from Mark Bomback’s simplistic screenplay.
What is important to this movie is that train, which has been cast as the villain instead of John Travolta. The argument that it’s the main character in the story could also be made, as it receives just as much if not more screen time than the main actors. Human stupidity and corporate greed sets it loose and make it worse; Godzilla stuck on the train tracks.
The absurdity of action movies often feeds the imaginations of audiences around the world, but unless this is your first movie, you know exactly where this train is heading. Good directors often have fun with action movie cliches, layering glamorously choreographed action sequences around the predictable and often unimportant plot. Unfortunately Unstoppable is the wrong kind of absurd. Cops open fire on the train as it hurtles by, and somehow countless people manage to find their way on the tracks, jumping out of the way just in time. Scott and Bomback have made this a monster movie, which sounds cooler than it is.
As we hurtle down the tracks toward the conclusion, the movie finds its footing. Frank and Will take front and center as their train catches up with the unmanned one filled with toxic chemicals, and they attempt to slow it down by attaching and then pulling it the other way. Finally, the train doesn’t feel like something chosen by cinematic fate to wreak chaos on the unfortunate small-towners along the track. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie unleashes incoherence and predictability, destroying nothing but our faith in action movies.