7 December 2010 | TheUnknown837-1
It works on the principles of late afternoon escapism and it's an efficient nail-biter.
Even though I did not care whatsoever for the fates of any of the stick-figure characters that populate Tony Scott's new movie "Unstoppable" and despite the fact that I still have some qualms with his directing style, I must confess that this new runaway-train movie won me over. It works on the principles of late afternoon escapism and it's quite efficient as a nail-biter. Kicking off to big bursts of kinetic action almost right from the beginning and lasting for a taut ninety-eight minutes, it proved itself as one of the more wholesomely entertaining action movies I've seen in the last half of the year.
The movie is based (loosely) on the CSX 8888 incident of 2001, in which a freight train ran amok and unmanned across the state of Ohio for two hours. Here the setting is switched to Pennsylvania and it's running at such high speeds that it threatens to destroy Stanton should it derail itself on an elevated railway and smash its toxic cargo. Of course, for the conventions of the action/escapism movie plot, we've got two troubled heroes who are just going through the motions of their not-so-happy lives when they assume the Superman personality and race against time to stop the train.
The train is the real star of the movie. More interesting than the people trying to control it. Director Tony Scott gives us several impressive and creative shots of the half-mile-long mechanical monster as it rampages around. Listen carefully to the soundtrack and amongst all the crashes and grinding sounds you'll hear noises reminiscent of the tyrannosaurus in Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park." The movie almost seems like a big-budget homage to Spielberg's early-career movie "Duel" in which you had an innocent man being pursued by a giant tractor-trailer.
The characters are modeled after Action Movie 101 Writing stereotypes. You know, the veteran and the rookie. One of them is splitting up with his wife, the other is having a hard time maintaining a relationship with his daughters. You've got the noble yardmaster wanting to save lives and the greedy, vulgarity-spitting corporate executive whose more concerned about how much dough he's lost. And, of course, it takes a major catastrophe in which lives are risked in order to glue everything back together again. And no, morbid as it sounds, I didn't care who lived and who died.
However, *however* the filmmakers are smart enough to play with this to their advantage. They do not waste any more time than they really need to with this flat caricatures and instead devote as much of the brief running time as they can to very gritty action sequences. I must commend Mr. Scott for his ability to coordinate his pyrotechnics crew. Although I still detest his overly extravagant dolly shots and irksome "quick zooms" (in which the camera inches in and out of people for no reason at all) he does hold your attention when letting loose a wave of inertia. The last quarter of the movie is consumed by an enormous, very intense action sequence that develops suspense and nail-biting tension reminiscent of "Back to the Future." Complications are thrown in and as they kept on coming, I gradually discovered myself nervously toying with the zipper of my jacket. He also does a fantastic job of balancing sequences with "Live Television" shots as news cameras record the incident.
"Unstoppable" is not a work of art, but heck, it's not trying to be. Movies are meant to be one of two things: art or escapism. "Unstoppable" is the latter. It achieves exactly what it is targeting: ninety-eight minutes of blood-pumping action, smart-alec dialogue, and a barrel of fun for all who participate. It's more fun (and less painful, for me) than any roller coaster I can remember being on at the fair. On the basis of it being a solid matinée thriller, I liked the movie.
Denzel Washington, as the wise old train veteran, is his usual self: sincere and convincing. Chris Pine is also in fine form as the goodhearted but troubled rookie whom he finds himself both bickering and laughing with. Rosario Dawson, an underrated actress, turns in another strong performance as the yardmaster supervising the disaster. And Kevin Dunn is sinister despite the two-dimensional character he's given to play. Supporting roles are played mechanically but well by Ethan Suplee, Meagan Tandy, Elizabeth Mathis, and Jessy Schram.
P.S., the movie almost shoots itself in the foot at the end, but just ignore that, as everything before it works just fine.