2010-11-12 11:06
What it's about:

Two railway engineers are charged with stopping an unmanned runaway freight train, carrying deadly chemicals, before it fatally collides with a heavily populated town in Pennsylvania.

What we thought:

Unstoppable is a blue-collared film, about blue-collared workers, doing blue-collared jobs. It's a film about ordinary, unassuming people simply doing what they need to get on with their lives – a work ethic that describes the film itself to a tee. Never aspiring for a minute towards high art and never displaying even the slightest pretensions to being more than it is, Unstoppable is a high octane thriller that goes in, does precisely what it says on the tin and gets out the minute that job is done.   
Tony Scott, despite his worthy filmography, of which True Romance and Crimson Tide are almost undoubtedly the high points, has never received the respect, admiration and accolades that his more famous brother, Ridley Scott (he of Blade Runner, Alien and Thelma and Louise fame), has garnered over the years. In general, it has to be said that Tony's reputation as "the lesser Scott" is largely deserved as his films are usually over-directed, over-stuffed and desperately in need of some restraint. This year, however, Ridley's dreary and mediocre Robin Hood comes a distant second to Unstoppable, his brother's most streamlined and perfectly measured thriller in years.

Some of the credit does have to go to its two leads, Chris Pine and – frequent Tony Scott collaborator – Denzel Washington, two very fine actors who do a very fine job with the parts they've been given. Though the parts they are given are hardly going to be remembered as either actor's most challenging role. Just last year, Pine pulled off the seemingly impossible task of escaping William Shatner's mighty shadow and truly made Captain James Tiberius Kirk his own in JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot. His likable but straightforward action hero role in Unstoppable certainly isn't going to make audiences forget that any time soon. As for Mr Washington, he has always been a far better actor than his lead roles in generic thrillers suggest him to be but he's clearly just kicking back here with a role that he could play in his sleep.        

The real reason that Unstoppable works and works brilliantly is that Tony Scott has found a way to harness all of his worse tendencies into something that can truly do justice to his hyper-kinetic camera movements, saturated colours and booming soundtracks. Rosario Dawson's character may call the runaway train a "missile the size of the Chrysler building" but it is Scott's direction that makes us believe it. He takes the train from its mundane roots and gives it all the heft, bone-shattering power and remorseless, unrestrained speed that makes it live up to both its devastating description and to the film's title.

It is a film whose visual look is defined by a mixture of dirt, soot and lifeless, unyielding machinery. The flesh and blood humans in the film are dwarfed by the vivid portrayal of their own monstrous creation being thrust explosively out of their hands and out of their reach. Never is this displayed more profoundly and more profusely than by cameras that don't simply swoop past the train but are caught in the aftermath of the relentless, thunderous sturm and drang of thousands of tons of cold metal on metal hurtling to its fatal end point. 

The real triumph of the film is that its teeth-grinding, nail-biting tension and delightful thrills are reflected through a very human prism. Not only does it portray the heroic actions of everyday people struggling against something that is far greater and far more powerful than them, but by a similarly tense struggle between the everyday blue collar workers who are left to deal with the grim situation and the money men who fail to understand anything but the purely fiscal side of what they are dealing with.

Unstoppable may not be the smartest or deepest film of the year and it may not leave much of an impression for much longer than it takes for the end credits to roll, but it is an exciting, gripping thriller that never loses sight of its humanity even as it relishes in the destructive power of its machinery. And how many Tony Scott thrillers can you really say that about?

It's not the smartest or deepest film of the year, but certainly one of its most exciting and gripping.
Read more on:    denzel washington  |  chris pine  |  movie

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