Movie Review: Unstoppable
I have a thing for disaster movies, and especially for disaster averted movies, and with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in last year’s new Star Trek movie) on board, I was on track to love Unstoppable. But man, this movie left me feeling more cheap and used than thrilled and inspired.
Not that it’s not incredibly exciting. Screenwriter Mark Bomback makes sure of that. He takes a true story (of an unmanned 21-car train that tooted over 65 miles in Ohio at speeds up to 46 mph) and crrrrrranks it up, to a half-mile-long freight train full of highly toxic, flammable chemicals barreling at speeds of 70 mph toward a dangerous S-curve on an elevated trestle, where it will almost certainly derail and explode, right in the heart of a densely populated metropolitan center, where the loved ones of Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and Will Colson (Chris Pine) happen to live.
Because the real life story is never enough.
Oh, and Barnes’ loved ones are two gorgeous daughters who work at Hooters. Which justifies lots of scenes of Hooters waitresses watching the action unfold on TV, glossy lips parted and bodacious bosoms heaving in consternation.
In case the story’s not enough to keep your attention, Tony Scott pulls out every trick in the book, from his usual blurry, fast cam to lightning edits and constant switch-ups of music video-type jolts of color treatments and other post-production effects. I’m guessing his production company is called Visual Adrenaline! (exclamation point his).
Denzel still earns my respect, delivering a textured, believable performance, and making it look effortless. Is the man aging in slo-mo? At fifty-five, he looks better than a lot of guys—actors included—a dozen years younger. Chris Pine seems to be trademarking long-lashed, chiseled-faced up-and-comers with big chips on their shoulders. This is essentially the same role he played in Star Trek, only helming a train instead of the Starship Enterprise. He does well, though, and holds his own next to Denzel, not an easy task. Furthermore, I’m always happy to see Rosario Dawson get work, and here she does an excellent job as ethical stationmaster Connie Hooper, who goes toe-to-toe against Kevin Dunn’s evil company fat cat Galvin (have I mentioned he’s fat? Ugly too. Because he’s evil, dontcha know.).
I’m not complaining about lack of backstory or subtext or anything silly like that. I know it’s not Kurosawa. It’s an action movie and it definitely delivers. The closest thing to subtext would be: regular decent working class joes = good; immoral corporate fat cats = bad. There’s even a good slam on corporate downsizing, and all the unethical ways companies save money by forcing early retirements and exploiting younger workers. In this age of Wall Street buyouts and a rapidly growing chasm between rich and poor, I’m down with that, simplistic as it is.
But come on. Give us a little credit. I might have been imagining it, but I think I could hear the squeak of all those wrenches, ratcheting up the tension, ever tight-tight-tighter. The runaway train somehow gains speed, the situation gets ever more dire, and rescue efforts fail spectacularly, one by one. Thank goodness Barnes and Colson are so smart and gutsy, and Connie Hooper has their backs against Galvin and his corporate buddies, who get dumber and more evil with every scene. Oh, and don’t read any further if you don’t want to spoil the big surprise but Colson gets his wife’s love back. She was mad at him about something, but that’s all cool now.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to be manipulated as much as the next girl, but not with such a heavy hand. Shrek has more moral complexity than this story.
What can you do, though? This is expert filmmaking at its most unstoppable. Once this movie leaves the station, it’s full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes until the predictably satisfying and utterly forgettable end.