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Unstoppable: There’s No Derailing This Film

Film November 30, 2010 by Inisia Lewis 2010/11/30 14:46:38

Unstoppable turned out to be a fun film, packed with enough drama, pressure and intensity to give any nursing home resident a heart attack. The film was also aptly named, and like a freight train barreling towards the town it’s hell-bent on destroying, it just could not be stopped.

When I first sat in the theater, I figured it would be the perfect, weekend popcorn fare, with a storyline so impossible yet harrowing, that I thought if it stunk, it’d at least be the funny kind of stinking. Plus, I was fascinated to see how Chris Pine would manage in his first big blockbuster since Star Trek, and Denzel Washington (American Gangster, Training Day) almost never disappoints. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t only Denzel that didn’t disappoint in this instance.

Unstoppable centers around Frank, a veteran engineer, and Will, a rookie conductor, who decide to play hero when an unmanned train and its final stop was set to be the largest disaster in Pennsylvania history. Connie (Rosario Dawson) is a female boss at the trains command center, helping to put Plan A, B, C (you get the picture) in motion, keeping everyone on their toes and fighting the bureaucratic jerks at the top who’d rather talk about stock devaluation and monetary losses than the “missile the size of the Chrysler Building” barreling towards all those PA businesses and homes. Apparently, the idea was inspired by a 2001 incident, where a 47-car locomotive leaving Toledo barreled through three counties at 66 miles an hour. In this instance, no one was hurt, so all the film explosions, car plowing and numerous other mishaps must have been inspired elsewhere.

The first relatable film that popped in my head was Speed. But a bus that couldn’t slow down due to bomb-speed issues couldn’t hold a candle to this runaway train action-thriller, unless you count the funny factor. The next correlation, that I felt, came when we learned of union issues and old-timers being forced into early retirement. The behind-the-scenes, work environment of planes, trains and automobiles are completely foreign to me, so I felt like I did watching the second season on The Wire. It was, by far, my least favorite season, but before it got boring, I was intrigued by the focus on ports and how those shipping harbor work since I had no clue, and it had never been even a passing thought in my head. It was quickly relegated to the back of my mind after episode twelve. Here, though, it served to give us an understanding of how different Will and Frank are, as well as, give the audience an understanding of how villainous the owning corporation is in comparison to these workers doing the best they can in hard jobs. The sentiment wasn’t not hammered down our throats, which I appreciated, but was a necessary backdrop to flesh out the characters and the predicament they were in.

And, I guess, that’s a testament to the succinct, tension-filled writing of Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard, The Race to Witch Mountain). Bomback knows how to make heroes who are so relatable, they could be your dad, brother or next door neighbor, and you wouldn’t doubt them for a second. He also knows how to make light of an extremely tense situation to add some needed relief. I can’t say a lot for Witch Mountain, but I know the same could be said for the fourth Die Hard. Couple that with, Tony Scott’s (Top Gun, Spy Game) direction, which was frenetic and quick-paced when the scene called for action and excitement yet beautiful and haunting as the train careened across the vastness of Pennsylvania, and you have a movie that while not Oscar-worthy is certainly entertaining. From Scott’s first scenes of train yard dust floating in the air and churning wheels on the train track, I knew I would, at least, not be cinematically let down.

When it came to acting, Washington, Pines and Dawson all held their own as the leads. Washington, worked with Scott on Man on Fire, Déjà vu, and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, and the two clearly know each other well and are comfortable working together. Both are veterans in the business, and any less that something fluid, realistic and easy would surprise me. The wildcards were Pines and Dawson. Pines made me forget the past, iconic character who might make it harder for me to seriously fall into any new character of his, and Dawson, who has yet to choose a film that really showcases her as the breakout star so many claimed her to be when she tackled Gail in Sin City, was pretty effortless and the “ball-buster” who cares. Now, I don’t think this is a breakout vehicle for either of them, but by playing normal, real people well, it was more like a slate cleaner. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan and Lew Temple. Each played their respective small parts of boss, scientific geek and cowboy extremely well even if they had little screen time.)

By the end of Unstoppable, my heart was racing and I was at the edge of my seat. Did it all turn out the way I expected in the end? Yes. Were some of the ideas to stop that train so far-fetched that I could have howled with laughter? Yes. But with great writing, acting and directing, the story was so all-consuming that the predictable and outrageous never concerned me. I’d call that combination pretty unstoppable.

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