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Saturday, November 13, 2010

All Aboard for Watching Unstoppable

Unstoppable = 3 ½ out of 5 Stars
Connie:  We’re not just talking about a train; we’re talking about a missile, the size of the Chrysler Building.
Unstoppable is the new action thriller from director Tony Scott and star Denzel Washington and presumably the second part of their “Train Trilogy,” which began with the tepid The Taking of Pelham 123, and will hopefully conclude with an adaptation of red-light/green-light taking place on a monorail and reuniting Denzel with his Man on Fire costar Dakota Fanning.  Seriously though, this was an entertaining film that managed to be better than I thought it could be.  It is a solid B-movie that audiences should be able to enjoy.  It uses its two leads well, provides plenty of train-related action, and never turns its characters into more than ordinary people.  This is probably the best blue collar working man action movie I have seen in quite some time.

The film begins with veteran engineer, Frank (Denzel Washington), training the rookie conductor, Will (Chris Pine), on what could have just been an ordinary day.  The two of course have their own issues, which we will come to learn about over the course of the film.  What is more important, however, is the speeding, unmanned locomotive that threatens Pennsylvania.  Due to a series of unfortunate events, a train carrying several cars full of explosive chemicals has been let loose and cannot be stopped in any easy manner.
Frank:  A train of that size, going that fast will vaporize anything in front of it.
Some attempts are made by the higher ups at the company responsible for the train, with the VP in command, played by Kevin Dunn, doing his best to make us all dislike his decisions.  Meanwhile, Rosario Dawson is put in the position of playing this film’s version of Ed Harris’ character in Apollo 13, albeit a sexier version.  She has the task of delivering all lines of dialogue that set up the films stakes, while dealing with the big wigs and all the employees, but she does it well.  This all leads to Frank and Will having to take matters into their own hands, and do what they can to catch up to the train and attempt to stop it, before it reaches the city and crashes, with massive destruction as the only possible result.


Director Tony Scott’s films of late often tend to rub a lot of people the wrong way, due to how over-stylized he tends to do things.  I don’t have a problem with his style (I like Domino, among his other recent films), but with all the different camera techniques and wild editing choices, I understand the objections.  For this film, Scott manages to dial down his technique and simply make an old school action thriller.  It certainly has his stamp all over it, with plenty of dynamic shots of trains passing by at various speeds and lots of rotating cameras around characters, but it never feels like the overkill of a movie like his previous feature, which I already mentioned, ‘Pelham 123’.  Scott also manages, in a fairly clever way, to incorporate news footage of the event, which mixes things up and provides for a way to continue setting up the stakes.  The best choice made, however, was the use of practical effects throughout.  For a film that requires a lot of big, heavy trains ripping through the countryside, it was nice to see so much of it actually happening.  With the exception of a key sequence towards the end, the idea of putting real people into dangerous situations involving large trains is both effective and quite entertaining to watch.

As far as the leads go, I was a fan of what they had to offer.  While Washington doesn’t bring anything more unique than usual to his performance, he does have the kind of charm and ability that works for him; especially for it being his fifth film with director Tony Scott.  Pine does fine work as well.  Coming off of his role as Capt. Kirk in Star Trek, this was a nice enough way for him to ease into role with less riding on him to worry about.  A lot of what I like about these characters in this film comes from that fact that half of the film doesn’t even involve these two really knowing about the unmanned train.  They just slowly develop the characters (as much as there is to develop anyway) before becoming involved in the main plot of the film, and there choices feel appropriate to the story presented.

As I mentioned, this is really an action film about blue collar men trying to do a good deed.  Because of that, I appreciated that the film never made these characters into more than they were.  Beyond some of the more formula elements required for a film like this, there was never a time where I didn’t believe in the characters or their actions.  No one suddenly has Superman-like abilities to be able to go above and beyond the call of duty.  Yes, this film does dramatize the hell out of a story based off true events, but it does it very well and in an entertaining manner.

I am a big fan of Tony Scott and I like Denzel Washington, but again, I did not think I was going to really enjoy this movie.  It turns out I was wrong.  It is basically a throwback to simpler action flicks of the past, but a well made throwback.  It starts out a bit slow, but like the very long train being pursued, the film builds up its speed and excitement overtime, leading to lots of entertaining action and fine chemistry between its two stars.  There is work from a fine ensemble here to make Unstoppable winnable.
Connie:  You better step on it.
Frank:  I’m stepping on it, in it, around it, and through it.

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