Unstoppable Review

Cinematic ADD auteur Tony Scott is back with muse Denzel Washington (for their fifth film together) in runaway train action adventure Unstoppable.

Opening with the dreaded “Based on Real Events” title card (enough to draw a number of moans and derision from any audience), we’re soon headfirst into the action as a young, inexperienced train conductor (Kid-Kirk Chris Pine) turns up for his first day on the job and finds himself not only having to contend with an older, scornful driver (Washington) but then also assisting his new partner in trying to bring to a halt an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train. The huge, “million ton” beast (unleashed on the tracks due to a human error) is hurtling towards a heavily-populated area; contained within it’s cargo, a huge batch of toxic and potentially lethal glue by-product (what were you expecting? a consignment of cotton wool?)

Watching in horror from control headquarters is Rosario Dawson (channelling Ed Harris in Apollo 13) who finds herself battling with her superiors who, as far as the train is concerned, are more worried with monetary loss than human.

Is there another director whose visual bag of tricks are as instantly recognisable of that of Ridley’s little bro? From the bleached-out metallic-y landscape to the frenetic camerawork (all intrusive close-ups and a multitude of quick pans and crash zooms), Scott has set the groundwork for a new generation of big-budget, headache-inducing, broad stroke action cinema fetishists like Michael Bay and all the other graduates from the Jerry Bruckheimer school of nuance and subtlety.

Perhaps the exception to Scott is that he likes to put normal characters (well, normal by Hollywood’s standards anyway) into large-than-life situations and watch the sparks fly. It was certainly the case in one of the directors more successful films, Enemy of the State, and he works that angle again here. While ‘Enemy’ was all state-of-the-art surveillance imagery and birds-eye, overhead shooting styles, Unstoppable feels more like a deliberately scaled back and pared-down (by his standards) effort from Scott and for the most part, benefits from this approach.

Apart from an unnecessary display of firepower towards the middle of the film, the majority of the action scenes in Unstoppable are nicely underplayed and (considering the subject matter) the film is refreshingly CG-lite. There’s also the interesting device of using the reports and video footage from the increasing media presence around the incident to help fill in exposition in a less obvious way, and in turn, add another layer of drama to the situation. The fantastic use of sound design is another big plus, turning this huge juggernaut into a genuinely terrifying machine.

As always, Washington’s everyman shtick is eminently watchable, and he’s well matched with Pine. Even Dawson gives a good performance here, and she manages to handle the corny lines she’s saddled with very well indeed.

Unfortunately, even though Scott shows a restraint which is absent from much of his previous work, many of the familiar faults of a Scott production work their way into proceedings. The rapid cutting style is often frustrating, as the audience are given very little in the way of scope and size of the train. Much like The Fan, it also feels like there is sometimes the tendency for the director to try and inject more depth into what is essentially a very threadbare plot, and no amount of choppy editing and swooping camera moves can disguise this.

Regardless of it’s flaws, Unstoppable still manages to entertain under the “it does what it says on the tin” proviso and bolstered considerably by its two leads who manage to bring a little reality to the situation, it’s not an entirely wasteful evening spend munching overpriced popcorn.

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