Denzel Washington reteams with director Tony Scott in Unstoppable. When an unmanned train loses its breaks, it’s up to a soon to be retired engineer (Denzel Washington) and his green conductor (Chris Pine) to catch up to it in and attempt a risky maneuver to bring it to a halt before its toxic payload destroys a city.
I’m fairly certain I’ve heard this before and wouldn’t be surprised at all if this subject matter has appeared in numerous made-for-TV movies. There isn’t a wealth of subplots, character building, or intellectual appeal to be found in Unstoppable. What is offered is a suitable amount of excitement, at least as much as a railed ride can warrant. There are crashes, fireballs, angry bosses, and pretty much anything else you would anticipate from a movie “based on actual events”. From what I’ve found that’s the term marketing teams tag films with so as to bring in the elderly crowd. I see it more as “loosely based on reality so you know what to expect for your dollar”.
Since there are actors present, I suppose I’m contractually obligated to mention performances. Denzel does his likable working man piece. Pine channels average like he’s known it his whole life. Seriously, bow hard is it to act like it’s your first day on the job? These event films have such a limited scope that you can’t help to notice the rotundly purposeful dialogue. Obviously Pine is aboard so that Denzel doesn’t have to orate with himself. They have two things to talk about, family and stopping a train. You rarely get insight into a character’s typical day when his only day is confined to a crisis, and that’s the way I viewed these men. All I could do is assume they go about business. I never heard if they have plans down the road, a project at home, or existential beliefs.
I’m actually reminded of a much lesser film that did one thing well, and that was extend the lives of its characters beyond the scope of the narrative—The Marine. Most of the movie has John Cena chasing Robert Patrick through the woods because his wife is being held hostage. At one point Patrick receives a phone call. It’s from the cable company. They want to offer him a sports package to go along with his recent order. It’s played for laughs but the fact is that it’s realistic. Phones ring for all the wrong reasons at the strangest times, and people do have TVs at home. Unstoppable may look better, have better actors, better direction, and overall screenplay, but it’s also so by-the-book that it’s as though a machine wrote it. Everything is a compromise to curtail the chance of derailment. **½