Forget the troublesome Pelham of 2009: Action guru Tony Scott and his muse Denzel Washington are firmly on the right tracks with this year’s adrenaline-fuelled thriller, Unstoppable, that really hits the mark, despite triggering an initial groan of yet another potential train-wreck of a movie on the cards.
After suppressing giggles from hearing that there’s an ‘unstoppable coaster’ charging down the tracks, with images of a cork mat having come loose from it’s coffee cup base springing to mind, the ‘coaster’ in question is another name for an unmanned runaway train, complete with 39 cars full of hazardous material to add to the thrills and spills. It’s up to Washington as veteran train engineer Frank Barnes and Chris Pine as rookie conductor Will Colson – on his first day on the job – to save part of Pennsylvania from certain disaster.
Unstoppable is a tour de force all of its own, allowed to gather speed within a simple and highly effective, no-frills plot. It’s also a truly believable one, helped in part by the story being based on actual events. What’s more electrifying is Scott has turned a hunk of metal into a living, breathing demon, with a terrifying life force of its own, gathering momentum and fury as it approaches the end of the track.
Although Unstoppable is effectively all about the action, Scott still allows time and space for us to really get to know our two heroes, whilst they chase the mechanical brute. Barnes and Colson from different generations learn to compromise like a father and son, revealing their differences and personal issues then resolving them, whilst simultaneously building a rocky friendship that will last a lifetime. It’s a real testosterone-fuelled buddy movie that sees Washington perfectly cast (or rather, the part moulded to him) as the weary old-timer, stubborn in practice, but happy to share his knowledge and wisdom, in contrast with Pine as the impatient ‘youngster’ who thinks he knows best.
In fact Pine is surprisingly appealing as an all-action hero in this as it marks an exciting new tangent in his career that could have been dominated by Captain Kirk in Star Trek, especially after a shocking dabble in romcom with the dreadful Blind Dating last year. Pine has the looks, the bulk and the intelligence to go far in this type of role, so here’s hoping he does more. And like art imitating life, imitating art, he has the perfect partner to learn from in Washington who literally hands over the controls to him in this film, giving him and the character he plays most of the glory.
The action is on the money, with just the right amount of terror, tragedy and pace to keep things moving along nicely, like a ticking time bomb, but without too much pomp and circumstance that leads to overkill in some action films from the emergency services. Still, Scott just can’t resist putting in a couple of car chases and screeching-tyre moments for good measure.
Unstoppable also manages to just about stay away from the ‘final farewells’ clichés, and even thought you stop to think ‘why didn’t they do that before’, events are actually remarkably realistic, as any developing situation would warrant a change of tactics, if the former didn’t work. What is a bit unbelievable is Barnes’ superhero leaps over carriages as he tries a manual way of slowing the Beast down. But this is Washington who can do no wrong – Pelham aside, so we want to absorb the absurd and go with the flow.
Rosario Dawson is excellent, too, as troubled train controller Connie Hooper, the voice of reason over the radio, battling trying to stop this thing, whilst juggling the idiotic moves made by the corporate suits in the boardroom in this male-dominated world. Naturally, she throws caution to the wind and sticks two fingers up at management to get the job done; it’s a real brains-verses-brawn, war of minds, the type of thing played out in many corporations worldwide, where blue collar verses white collar, so it strikes home for any audience who will relate to either role situation.
Unlike The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable is money well spent, so buy your ticket for a rollercoaster ride with confidence, as this is a Scott film worth paying to see on the biggest screen possible for full effect.
By L G-K