“Unstoppable” Chugs Along

Photo Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Chances are, if you were to inquire about the hype for “Unstoppable” in the weeks leading up to the film’s release, you would find that both excitement and expectations were rather low for Tony Scott’s latest feature.

Indeed, some felt that Scott was attempting to make amends for his last film, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” — after all, both films bear some similarities. Others simply thought that the film was going to be a rip-off of “Speed.”

Surprisingly, “Unstoppable” turns out to be a reasonably solid action flick. While it has its share of flaws, it exceeds expectations and is one of Scott’s better films in recent years.

Due to “a combination of human error and bad luck,” an unmanned freight train half a mile long and carrying a cargo of hazardous chemicals barrels at 70 miles per hour in Southern Pennsylvania. If derailed in a highly populated area, it will undoubtedly cause an environmental disaster.

Will Colson (Chris Pine), a young train conductor, starts his day off by receiving training from veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington). What starts as a training exercise ends up being a race for time as the two chase the runaway train in order to bring it back under control.

Monitoring the situation are Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), a yard master, and Oscar Galvin (Kevin Dunn), the Vice President of Train Operations. While Connie wants minimal loss of human life, Galvin is more concerned with minimizing the company’s financial losses.

Those who are familiar with action films will know the plot structure of “Unstoppable” all too well. How so? You see, for a film belonging to this genre, Murphy’s Law will generally be applied throughout (with a few breaks here and there) until the last 15 minutes or so.

With that being said, the film doesn’t offer anything new to the genre  — except for the fact that the humans don’t physically harm each other at all in this picture. Thus, not only is its story fairly predictable, it is also easily forgotten once you step out of the theater.

Unfortunately, the picture never reaches the level of intensity it should, despite the number of thrilling moments. This intensity is normally achieved by raising the stakes, and that never really happens here; in the film, the threat remains constant, and no other dangers arise.

However, when it comes to the action sequences, “Unstoppable” becomes quite exciting. Colson, Barnes and the railroad company execute a variety of methods to stop the train in its tracks (no pun intended), and watching them either fail or succeed will keep your eyes fixated on the screen.

Mirroring brother Ridley’s frequent collaboration with actor Russell Crowe, Scott once again teams up with Washington for their fifth feature film. However, in “Unstoppable,” the actor has more of a supporting role, whereas he was either the lead or co-lead in their other pictures.

Instead, the most prominent role goes to Pine. Though the film arguably has an ensemble cast, Pine’s character is the most developed. As Colson, Pine communicates his character’s frustrations well, and shares a dynamic chemistry with Washington, which works to the film’s benefit.

Washington’s performance isn’t anything new, and seems to be fulfilling only the bare essentials required for his role. His usual dominating presence is absent in the film — which is surprising, considering that it is one of his key characteristics.

The rest of the cast deliver satisfactory work. Dawson’s work isn’t anything too special, and it’s a relief to see Dunn in a role other than the dopey father he plays in the “Transformers” films. No one specifically stands out, but then again, action films usually don’t showcase Oscar-worthy acting.

To be frank, the cast can definitely benefit from stronger dialogue and deeper character development. When they’re uttering cringe-worthy lines like “We’re going to run this bitch down,” and describing the train as “a missile the size of the Chrysler Building,” you aren’t going to take them seriously at all, especially if their characters have contrived backstories, which is the case for both Pine and Washington.

Scott’s direction is confident, as he is an ace at capturing action with the camera. While he does retain many of his trademarks, like the circling camera and sudden quick zooms, he thankfully ditches the blurry images that result from his application of shaky-cam.

The high angle and long shots certainly capture the scale of the action and, when coupled with the impeccable sound effects, make the film’s world very convincing.

Overall, “Unstoppable” is quality entertainment. Though it lacks the intensity seen in most action films and doesn’t offer much creativity, it’s well directed and provides plenty of thrill.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5