Unstoppable (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Unstoppable (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEThe trailer for Unstoppable is one of those perfect storms of advertising that makes me glad to be a fan of quality "trashy" movies.  It's combination of new regime versus the old guard, runaway trains, innocent children and potential for massive explosions seemed too good to be true.  Lucky for us about 85% of Unstoppable's runtime delivers exactly what it promises, it's just one short trim shy of popcorn perfection.

Unstoppable reunites director Tony Scott with his usual acting partner Denzel Washington for this story of trains run amuck.  Denzel is Frank Barnes, an engineer for Allegheny and West Virginia Railroad, who is just about ready to turn in his cap and try and spend some time getting to know his daughters.  His partner is Will Colson played by Chris Pine.  The fellas at the yard, Frank included, don't take too kindly to Will being hired as a conductor since Will is union and means that the older workers will probably be out of a job soon.

Then, because it's just one of those days, a train carrying several cars worth of hazardous/explosive material lurches forward with no one at the helm and begins a rapid acceleration.  At the same time, and quite ominously, another train filled with school children departs on a trip.  All the while the train yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) desperately tries a number of things to get the train to stop.  Ultimately, it looks like it may be up to an old engineer and a young conductor to stop the runaway train.

More unflappable cool from Denzel.

Getting to that point supplies a lot of the fun and the first third of Unstoppable provides the best enjoyable spectacle.  The army is called in to try shooting at the train (I promise this makes sense in context), the railway company tries to airlift some people onto the top of the train, someone else tries to jump onto the train as it's in motion, and many other outrageous stunts.

Denzel Washington and Chris Pine are mostly sidelined for the first forty minutes or so and free to get to know each other.  Really, I didn't need to know either of their marital woes or children issues but they have such an unforced chemistry that it was still pleasurable to watch.  It made their eventual team-up that much more satisfying when they decide to throw their differences to the wind and stop the train themselves.

Now in the "strange but true" section of the film the whole thing is based on a real event.  Most of the dramatic parts are invented and a few names were obviously changed but the core story is pretty much intact.  I would have expected Tony Scott to have made up the stuff about the poisonous/explosive chemicals for the movie but the real train was really pulling chemicals that could kill someone via skin exposure.

Rosario Dawson has a thanklessly exposition heavy role but handles it with confidence and panache.

The last time Tony Scott made a film based on a true story he ended up making Domino.  Few films frustrate me as much as that movie did because Tony Scott typically doesn't know how to calm the hell down when editing shots together (I counted about 100 cuts in the first 2 minutes of Domino before giving up).  But here Tony Scott has shown considerable restraint in letting the action unfold in long shot and not cutting away every couple of seconds.  He trusts that a runaway train carrying explosive chemicals is exciting enough to hold our interest (he's quite right).

Unstoppable is a lot of damn fun and knows it.  I still wish that someone could have seen that they had a perfect hour and fifteen minute movie on their hands (really, minimum movie run times are stupid) but it's still a delight and moves at a brisk pace.  Just sit back and hope that the denizens of PA don't end up with a theme park sized crater on their hands.

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Unstoppable (2010)

Directed by Tony Scott.
Screenplay by Mark Bomback.
Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson.

Posted by Andrew

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