Lets see now...he's made the Underground/Subway look cool, working on board a submarine look cool (although it is kinda cool really isn't it but I bet you never thought about it before his movie). Stock car driving now looks cool and making all fighter pilots look like young handsome brooding studs. Well now its the turn of the humble loco driver to be uber cool.
From the outset the way the loco gets loose and goes on the run is laughable to be honest. I dunno if this happens in the US a lot (scary if it does, this is based on a real event!!) but the way everyone seems to think its funny and not a problem that a loco is unmanned and running away is frankly bizarre. I imagine the practice of getting out of your cab to swing points whilst the train is still moving has been stopped.
As the story develops we do get the typical Scott direction of trying to make us think that working in a loco yard (train driver/shunter) is cool. Its filmed with dramatic angles, sexy lighting, quickfire editing and plenty of in-house railway jargon that some won't follow but it sounds good. Somehow all the grunting cocky cowboy-like drivers, a sexy controller and the fast talking hip engineers doesn't really match reality, you can see Scott is eager to sex-up this field of work in his usual style. There should have been more shades worn in this.
Little silly niggles aside the film is a spectacular affair with sweaty tense action and thundering collisions that look really expensive and make you wince. They seemed to be using real loco's here as I saw no CGI used anywhere, all very impressive stunts. Location work is beautiful too I might add, rural US of A with the lovely foliage of Virginia.
Scott knows how to make a gritty fast film and this delivers on every level I assure you. Despite the rather dated plot concept and very obvious conclusion the film is terrific fun and will have you biting your nails to the last second...despite knowing damn well they will succeed. His usual choice of actor Washington is on board and he adds that perfect rundown regular Joe quality to the film with his usual stoic performance. Pine is also fine but can't quite match Washington for realism in the job, plus he looks too heroic really, way too buff for this.
Only problem is, the way they manage to actually stop the loco, they could of done that at any point at anytime as far as I can tell. The whole time your thinking why not just do that? All you need is a fast car...then they do it at the end and I was like...duh!
Even though the movie is based on a real event its easy to forget and it does come across like a full blown action thriller. The movie is promoted as such and it does deliver on all accounts...even though you know what's gonna happen. Throw a few terrorists into the fray and you would have had 'Die Hard' on a locomotive. All aboard for a chuffing good ride (pun fully intended).
The opening credits claim that this film is based on a true story, but there are moments that are so implausible that I thought Tony Scott was pulling a Coen Brothers' Fargo on me. Real or not, the film is exciting and fun and perfect for all of Scott's gimmicks -- his ever-moving camera, quick cuts, big (unrealistic) explosions, hyper-masculine dialogue. It's all predictable but enjoyable, much like 1994's Speed.
Overall, this film is unsubstantial fun.
The charismatic cast is led by the great Denzel Washington, one of the most reliable leading men in all of movie-dom, in his new flavor of disillusioned, yet competent, capable 'old man' roles that he is beginning to play in his late fifties, and hunky Chris Pine, brimming with screen presence. They are joined by the lovely Rosario Dawson as a railway controller, (surprisingly credible) and veteran character actor Kevin Dunn as a sleazy railway executive.
The simple tale is based on an actual runaway train incident from about ten years ago. Due to human error, a train loaded with explosive toxic chemicals is hurtling towards a large population center. Two railway employees (Denzel, the grizzled veteran who's just been made redundant and Chris, first day on the job, the young new buck who's pushing old guys out in an evil downsizing), at risk of life and limb and in defiance of authorities, try to stop the hurtling train. That's all you have to know. There a subtext of the new depression, the fading railroad and a changing (for the worse) America, but it's not that heavy. Just sit back and enjoy the train action and the heroics.
The film is tasteful throughout and is surprisingly wholesome, with very little profanity, no sex (well, Denzel's daughters are Hooters Girls), and has snappy and not too cliched dialogue. It avoids the trap of using trendy pop culture references and tropes, giving the film a timeless quality. It's a great choice to enjoy with the whole family, though I would imagine the bigger fans of the film would be boys who have just grown out of their Bob the Builder DVDs. If you like railroads and trains, you'll be in heaven.
Nate's Grade: B
The pacing, until the final 3rd is excellent - starting off with the typical goings on at a train yard (I must admit that I too am curiously compelled by these huge iron leviathans) - moving slowly setting up the drama to come, just as the runaway train starts slowly and then picks up speed. Scott manages to juxtapose real human feelings with the stark fatalism of a huge object hurtling towards disaster, thanks in part to a nice script and very solid performances from Denzel and Pine as the leads. Rosario Dawson also shines as the station manager butting heads with the gender biased good old boy head of railroad operations who seems more concerned with his bottom line than the potential disaster and loss of human lives (hmm, perhaps he was at that seminar in The Yes Men Save The World, where the algorhythm curve for "acceptable human loss" was espoused).
Using a quasi docu-drama style, where much of the action is shown via mock TV news reporting, the film still manages the balancing act between building tension and all out action - giving you just enough of a breather to fill in the back stories so that you really do care about the characters of the two male leads.
My only negatives are that the film became just a bit too long once the train entered Scranton - too many shots of the train hurtling towards disaster (though the tipping onto one rail was fabulous) ... I got a feeling of, ok, we get it, now lets resolve this sucker. The film also dwelled a bit too long on the impromptu hero's reception - and really blew it by having Denzel's two daughters as part of the scene. But otherwise, a really tight action thriller that had me engrossed throughout - and I loved the tag ending that showed the resolution of the characters - especially funny was showing that the slacker flunky who caused the entire disaster by his carelessness was now working in the fast food industry.
Director: Tony Scott
Summary: It's a nail-biting race against time as an unmanned train carrying a load of lethal chemicals speeds out of control, and a conductor and engineer do everything in their power to keep it from derailing and killing tens of thousands of people. Denzel Washington leads the cast in Tony Scott's tough-minded action thriller, in which a terrible circumstance forces a couple of ordinary men to become extraordinary heroes.
My Thoughts: "As far as a movie about a run away train goes, this was pretty good. The story is simple. No high jacking or any kind of bad guy here. Just a huge mistake a worker made. The chemistry between Denzel Washington and Chris Pine is great. They worked really well off of each other. I was surprised at just how exciting the film was. I was ready to be bored. I will admit it was a bit slow in some parts. But the ride this film takes you on is worth sitting through the slow parts."
Tony Scott's film is inspired by real events, but don't let that put you off. This is a film about a runaway train shot with a battalion of runaway cameras, in a haze of what Scott might consider turbo-charged verite. Rail depots have never looked so macho, a chic and muscular backdrop shimmering in absurdly perfect winterlight.
Sure, there are rumours of truth beneath the clanking metal of high concept - a train with no driver, a payload of toxic chemicals, and a brakeless hurtle into populated regions of Pennsylvania - but Scott the younger pursues every microsecond of big-boned movieness from the proposition. In other words, he sends Washington and Pin in hot pursuit.
From the opening scenes of weary men going to work, Unstoppable feels in sure hands. The leads' chemistry is so much better than formula, bristling with Washington's grandiloquent laughter, Pine's brittle veneer, and the script's garrulous mix of grainy rail-speak and hearty man-to-mans on age, marriage, and daughters doing shifts at Hooters.
Make no mistake, we are still talking about a disaster movie literally running on tracks. There's nowhere else to go but down that line, not allowing for Speed's cocktail shaker of romance, thriller and disaster movie parody (even if hot-controller Rosario Dawson frets into her mic, while her superiors worry about share prices).