Wednesday, November 17, 2010



Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson
Directed by: Tony Scott
20th Century Fox
The first image that comes onscreen is that of white text on a black background: “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS”. In 2001, train CSX #8888 left Walbridge, Ohio’s Stanley Yard and embarked on a 66-mile journey through northwest Ohio – with nobody at the controls. Unstoppable takes the incredible premise, runs with it, and indeed doesn’t stop.

            Rookie train conductor Will Colson (Pine) punches in on his first day at work, and immediately earns the ire of the older workers who fear that they will be displaced by Colson and those like him. As such, veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Washington), Colson’s new partner, appears not to take too well to him. Barnes is affable but perhaps a bit salty, and the two men struggle a little to work as a team.

            In the meantime, two hostlers at Fuller Yard hastily attempt to move a train out of the way to make way for an excursion train filled with schoolchildren. In their hurry, they do not connect the air brakes and the train leaves the yard for the main line unmanned. Train yardmaster Connie Hooper (Dawson) sends the hostlers after the train to stop it.

            However, the runaway train begins to go under power, and hurtles full speed ahead. This, combined with its potentially hazardous cargo of molten phenol, threaten to wreak havoc if the train reaches the more populated towns that lie right ahead of the farmlands along the line.

            Connie’s boss, Vice-President of the AWVR railway line Oscar Galvin (Kevin Dunn)  seems more concerned about the potential financial losses that could be incurred for the company, and authorizes a poorly-planned attempt to stop #777 with a lashup of two locomotives travelling ahead, while another employee attempts to board the train and enter the train cockpit, descending from a helicopter.

            The attempt goes awry, and the train continues on unfazed. Barnes realises that he and Colson could have a chance-the only chance left-at stopping the train, and hatches an ambitious and dangerous plan. The rookie and the veteran have to pool their collective wits and skill in order to stop the hurtling steel beast-while Connie and their loved ones look on in anguish as the story is covered on the news.

            Chasing after a runaway train for two hours may not seem like the best way to spend a night at the cineplex, and it probably isn’t. Unstoppable could be best described as a prolonged Discovery Channel documentary-style re-enactment, except with a much bigger budget and A-list stars. The film feels real and gritty, with the film tinted a slight greyish hue and the camera giving us a look at the uncompromisingly unglamorous Pennsylvania suburbs and industrial districts.

            While there are no big surprises to be had, a sizeable part of the movie’s appeal is how relatable the characters feel, even when flung into slightly larger-than-life scenarios. It’s a film where the heroes are blue-collar workers, not Hollywood movie stars. And it is certainly better than Tony Scott’s previous train-related film starring Denzel Washington, the mediocre remake The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.

            Here, instead of being a dispatcher stuck in an office, Washington, along with Chris Pine, is at the controls. Denzel Washington has perhaps moved a little past his action hero days, and as an ordinary man who has been driving trains for 28 years, he is quite believable. It’s harder for Pine to shake off his screen idol looks though, but he tries his best. Both have good chemistry and forge a credible mentor-rookie relationship that is neither overly hostile nor buddy-buddy.

            Rosario Dawson is very good as the yardmaster with a potential disaster on her hands. She makes for an excellent career woman under pressure, remaining level-headed, responsible and in charge in the face of a life-or-death situation. Even though her character is stuck in the confines of the dispatch room, she makes do. Kevin Dunn is also alright as the stock corporate greaseball type who watches from his swanky office in suit and tie as the drama unfolds, and doesn’t seem to help.

            The film also contains aspects of a good old-fashioned action thriller: the intensity feels heightened yet real and the action set-pieces are staged with fine pacing and carry much weight. When the #777 bashes through the obstacles in its path, you can truly feel the heft of that machine barrelling towards the screen.

            I like seeing helicopters in action onscreen, and there are several here, including news helicopters. News footage is spliced in as the events unfold, so not only do we get a riveting first-hand view of the drama, we also see it as someone watching on TV at home might. This is surprisingly effective.

            The screenplay is also relatively tight. Nobody says more than they might in real life, and there are few superfluous lines of dialogue, as well as an appropriate smattering of brief humour. From a technical aspect, I readily bought into the film’s portrayal of the workings of locomotive transport, and at the same time, there isn’t so much techno-babble as to lose the audience entirely.

            Unstoppable succeeds mainly because it stays grounded, wheels-to-the-tracks, and puts across an exciting yet credible adventure, with a good sprinkling of emotion. That, supplemented by the judicious use of explosions.


Jedd Jong Yue

1 comment:

  1. UNSTOPPABLE is highly recommended movie. It is a film that really needs to be watched on the big screen in a cinema that has really good surround sound to get the full benefit of the camera work and soundtrack.

    Unstoppable Soundtrack