in Review

Off the Rails


“We’ve had airplane, bus, truck, even boat disaster movies, but have you ever seen a train as the centerpiece of the action before?” Tony Scott asked. “Yes, we have,” the studio executive replied, “in fact, your last movie was set on a train.” Scott paused for a moment, “Yeah, but, this time I’ve got Denzel Washington.” “You always get Denzel.” “What if instead of John Travolta I put Captain Star Trek in it?” “OK, we’re in.” And so Unstoppable was born.

Based on a real-life, less exciting tale of an out-of-control train, Unstoppable forces an old pro (Washington) and a rookie (Pine) to try to stop an unmanned freight train that’s loaded with gas and toxic chemicals and headed for civilization way too fast. Who’s fault is this? Ethan Suplee, who foolishly tried to jump out of the train and outrun it to the track switch. Who’s sticking up for our heroes? Rosario Dawson, as a dispatcher who tries to help the guys and talk some sense into the corporate fat cats who think they know best. Will they be able to stop the train in time? See the movie.

What works is Washington and Pine’s chemistry, with Denzel’s calm knowledge balancing out Pine’s hotheadedness. It’s pretty neat that Denzel seems so cool here, since almost the entire movie he is sitting down. When they dive into each other’s backstories they get a little less fun, but I guess they had no choice. The issues with Pine’s relationship with his wife aren’t handled all that well and probably didn’t need to be in the movie at all. But whatever. They be bros and we root for ’em.

The train itself is presented beautifully. It always seems big, menacing, dangerous. I swear it even roars when they show it speeding by the Pennsylvania countryside. Tony Scott does a great job of emphasizing just how dangerous this train is, and as we watch multiple attempts to stop it fail it doesn’t seem as ridiculous as the trailers made me think it would be. The whole movie is very kinetic, always rushing forward towards its conclusion.

So if you’d like to see another disaster movie, by all means check out Unstoppable. It’s fun to watch. Just don’t expect groundbreaking, genre-changing paradigm shifts or generation-defining performances. This is just dudes on a train.