'Unstoppable' stars Denzel Washington and a train: movie review
A classic runaway train story, 'Unstoppable' has great energy and rumbly action with Denzel Washington as a railroad hero.
Robert Zuckerman/AP Photo/20th Century Fox
If you are a filmmaker, a movie about a runaway train must be an easy sell. Whatever human drama you try to pump into the plotline, whatever grand statement you are attempting to make about the state of the Union, the fact remains â€“ a runaway train is a runaway train.
Of course, not all runaway train (or bus or subway car) movies are created equal. The best one was probably â€śRunaway Train,â€ť starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. (It should have been called â€śRunaway Performance.â€ť) The first â€śSpeedâ€ť was pretty good. One of the lesser entries was Tony Scottâ€™s recent remake of â€śThe Taking of Pelham 123.â€ť Still feeling the need for speed, Scott is back, with the aptly named and much improved â€śUnstoppable.â€ť
Scott isnâ€™t exactly Ingmar Bergman when it comes to delineating interpersonal relationships, and the dialogue from writer Mark Bomback sounds as if it was devised by a computer program for beginning screenwriters. No matter. The real star here is the big, unmanned freight train sparking through Pennsylvania at 70 m.p.h. while carrying hazardous cargo. Best of all, the train doesnâ€™t have any dialogue.
The filmâ€™s ostensible stars are Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as the two railroad heroes who attempt to stop the unguided missile when all else fails. Washingtonâ€™s Frank is a hardened veteran resentful of Pineâ€™s Will, a newbie who not only got his job through family connections but is also having marital problems. Single dad Frank, meantime, has two unruly daughters to fret over. (They both waitress at Hooters.)
All this backstory and more emerges while the two guys, manning another train, attempt a hyper-dangerous hookup with the locomotive. Itâ€™s comforting to know that, under such straitened circumstances, itâ€™s still possible to conduct a bond-a-thon.
The rumbly action sequences are, to my eye, blessedly free of CGI effects. What you see is what you get. The kinetic energy of these scenes, not to mention the stuntwork, is amazing. Itâ€™s easy to dispel the silliness that surrounds them â€“ like the way Scott tries to turn â€śUnstoppableâ€ť into a tidy parable about recession-era inequities. (The rail company CEO, informed during his country club golf game that the locomotive could kill thousands of people, frets about the companyâ€™s stock price.)
Like it or not, there are some things that movies do best. Movies do not generally do a great job with anything involving heavy-duty cogitation, but when it comes to runaway trains, the medium is peerless. All aboard! Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language.)
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