This post is the unedited copy of the review published in iMAGES on Sunday, Sunday 12th December 2010 in our film review column Animadversion. A link to the published version can be found at the end of this post.
“This Train Is a MISSILE!!”
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
“Unstoppable” is all about tension and resolution. It is superfast without being tiring. It is loud, but in a good way (hats off to the foley artist – the guy who records everyday sounds, like the chugs of a train engine, for a movie); and it isn’t stupid (well not entirely).
“Unstoppable” is also about the sensibilities of a sugar-high kid (at 66 years) driving a movie of a train pumping coal (or to be politically correct, diesel/electricity) at 70 km/per hour, unmanned and dangerous, filled with a cargo of chemicals that would go BOOM when mixed hard on the ground (ala derailment). But we get to that in a minute. Let’s talk about the tension and resolution first.
Here’s how it happens: Will Colson – Chris Pine – rookie train conductor, walks in his first day of work. He’s agitated and edgy. He has a restraining order from the wife. “Will Colson”, he introduces himself to Frank Barnes, a bald Danzel Washington sporting a tuque, jacket and for a minute, reading glasses.
Frank’s a veteran engineer on the verge of getting the boot. An estranged father whose daughters are working through collage at Hooters – a restaurant franchise that employs curvaceous women in skimpy clothes to sell their food. “We’re working together today”, says Will. A blank stare from Frank. A handshake and Will shows Frank his papers. A fast zoom-in on Will between cuts as he gets an unblinking stare of hostility from Frank’s friend Judd Stewart (David Warshofsky) sitting on the left (possibly another soon-to-be retired). “Is there a problem”, Will asks. “No problem. I just don’t like working in a damn day care center”, the unblinking friend replies. “Yeah, well”, replies Will, “I don’t like working in a retirement home”.
Tension, hostility, anxiety, all resolved in 30 seconds flat.
Tony Scott, the director, is a veteran, but unlike Frank, he’s far from getting the boot. He’s also the kid I talked about at the beginning of the review, and with screenwriter Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”, “Deception”) keeping things realistic (the film is based on a real life incident, albeit with names and a few facts changed for dramatic effect), Mr. Scott gets to tackle the film with the imagination of a sharp, logical, ten year old who just got a state-of-the-art train set.
So he does what every kid with a $100 million budget does. Collides trains with trains. Decelerates trains with trains. Rips trains through cars. You get the idea. Things run high. Things run fast. People go out of their minds trying to find a solution.
One of them is Rosario Dawson as Yardmaster Connie Hooper, who overpowers the film without a spec of back-story (if there was one, then I have totally missed it, not that it takes anything away from the movie). At one point, she bursts out: “We’re not talking about a train. We’re talking about a missile the size of Chrysler building!” *ching, ching, ching* – If dialogues sell movies then we have a sale Johnny!
Released by 20th Century Fox, “Unstoppable” is rated PG-13. Apart from Mr. Washington, Mr. Pine and Ms. Dawson (Good. Good. Best), the film stars Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Corrigan, Lew Temple, Kevin Chapman, T. J. Miller, Jessy Schram and David Warshofsky.
It is linear – like the incident. It is loud. Cars and carriages get ripped to shreds. Cops try to shoot down the train (yes, it is as silly as it sounds). One of the film’s leads gets a ghastly leg injury. There is a casualty in the air (at least I think there is) and on the ground. And everything is horribly gripping.
By Farheen Jawaid
The real hero in “Unstoppable” is not the unmanned train cradling a deadly mix bag cargo of chemicals hurtling at 46 miles per hour. It isn’t Danzel Washington or Chris Pine, sketched after, like the train, on real life people who helped decelerate the speeding train with their own small locomotive. It isn’t their real-life dilemmas fabricated, exaggerated, to the big screen – Danzel Washington is a retiring veteran whose girls are making their way through college by working at Hooters and Chris Pine is a trained rookie kept at arm’s length from his wife by the law (he was under the delusion that she was cheating on him, so he went the way of a hot blooded male…’nuff said). And finally it isn’t the screenplay by Mark Bomback, which wades through elements without being conspicuous.
The real hero of the film is Tony Scott – the director, with a penchant for taught, highly commercial, thrillers that go boom at the box-office (more or less).
Mr. Scott is the man in “Unstoppable”. His aesthetic-cap is on tight. His eye is tighter on technicalities (he could have muted the hard color correction a bit). And he grapples the obvious without making it too obvious.
Mr. Scott accelerates “Unstoppable” with small, minute, twists that are easy to digest and skimps on anything deus ex machina. The bare bones are already introduced in the beginning of the film, so all that’s left is to maintain the speed and grip of the movie. And maintain it he does. At times Mr. Scott’s Unstoppable looks like a 10 year old chugging non-stop with his electric train set. When he’s having this much fun, who are we to disagree.
The published version can be found at: