Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Unstoppable" (2010)

Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson
Written by Mark Bomback
Directed by Tony Scott
Rated PG-13 - Language, peril
Running Time: 98 Minutes

Will Colson (Chris Pine) is a rookie train conductor paired for a simple haul job with veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington).  Barnes at first resents Colson, who he believes only has a job because of family connections.

Meanwhile, two trainyard workers attempting to move a train off a needed track, Dewey (Ethan Suplee) and Gilleece (TJ Miller) accidentally allow the train to "coast" without a conductor and it gets away from them.  Unfortunately, while everyone believes that the train is merely coasting and will come to a stop on its own, Dewey left the throttle open, and the train instead begins to pick up speed.

Unmanned and out of control, the train, carrying thousands of gallons of toxic material in its cargo, is headed for disaster.  If the train isn't stopped or slowed down by the time it hits a dangerous curve in Stanton, Pennsylvania, it will fly off the tracks into a field of fuel containers.  The resulting explosion and toxic spill could kill thousands and destroy an entire city.

Colson and Barnes make the dangerous decision to use their locomotive to catch up to the speeding train after the company's other attempts to stop it have failed.  With the help of a local yardmaster, Connie (Rosario Dawson), Barnes and Colson will make their heroic but dangerous attempt to stop the train with the whole world, including Barnes' daughters and Colson's estranged wife, watching on TV.

"Unstoppable" is the final film of director Tony Scott.  While I didn't think much of his slick remake "The Taking of Pelham 123," this film is a fine note for his career to go out on.  With a great cast and set pieces, "Unstoppable" is a fun, well-crafted thriller.

While there's an appropriate amount of speeding trains, zooming helicopters and crashes and booming, the film is really held together by the chemistry between Pine and Denzel.  While their characters aren't exactly the deepest, and there's not much in the way of real development for them, the two actors work extremely well together, both at first when there's a solid dislike between them and then later on as they've found themselves as a team.  The two actors seem to be having a great time, and they also get the best dialogue the script has to offer.

The supporting cast is equally good, filled with a lot of familiar faces.  Rosario Dawson's role is fairly thankless.  She's the one who is constantly right throughout the film but her superiors don't believe her. It's a fairly cliched role, but she puts an intensity and an energy into it that makes her fun to watch.  Other characters like Ned (Lew Temple) a welder Connie orders to chase after the train in his pickup, Dewey and Gilleece, Scott Werner (Kevin Corrigan) a federal safety inspector, and Oscar Galvin (Kevin Dunn) all do their best with their limited roles, elevating the material.  There's not a bad performance in the bunch, even if the roles aren't particularly in-depth.

Scott delivers a very well-paced thriller.  The film rockets along like, well, a train.  The action is often intercut with various news reports.  The train is constantly buzzed by news choppers, and we get status updates from news anchors.  The news is also how the plot is dispensed via soundbites to Barnes' daughters, who both work as waitresses at Hooters (one of the films funnier jokes), and to Colson's estranged wife Darcy (Jessy Schram).

There are some impressive sequences on display, as well, as the attempts to stop the train grow more and more dangerous and desperate.  Scott imbues the whole thing with a great sense of speed and peril. An initial attempt to stop the train by putting a locomotive in front of it goes disastrously wrong, leading to an impressive crash and a cool stunt involving a man dangling from a helicopter on a cable.  The film's climax roars along, a well-edited and technically superb bit of action filmmaking.

"Unstoppable" is a fun, engaging thriller, with direction and acting that elevate the simplistic script.  Tony Scott assembled a great cast and let them go to town.