Review: Unstoppable

Posted October 26th, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Unstoppable is based on the true story of a runaway unmanned train carrying hazardous chemicals in Ohio in 2001. As is the case with most dramatizations of real-life events the movie takes liberties with the facts making it a non-stop action filled race to prevent tragedy and provide redemption for the main characters. 

Denzel Washington stars as a 28 year veteran of the railroad (Frank Barnes) who is assigned to ride along with a conductor on his first day (Will Colson) as played by Chris Pine. They are faced with avoiding a collision with the runaway train and then decide to make a heroic effort to stop it.

Most of the film is spent either on the train with Barnes and Colson or watching footage of the runaway train. In fact I grew a little tired of all the shots of the train speeding along. It began to feel a bit like filler to extend the movie and just get across that it was a monster.

What really got to me though is how much this movie from Fox pushed its own brand. There are several scenes as presented by news coverage and of course they come from Fox networks. It was really pushed in the audiences face though with the full screen in some instances taking on Fox graphics. There was even a Fox screen-wipe for a transition from one scene to the next.

I’m a big Tony Scott fan and have always enjoyed his shooting style but it was a little over-the-top in this case. The shots that go from one position to quickly zoomed in, all the news coverage footage, and the shots coming from helicopters eventually added up to a distraction. The action scenes played out well though and there was a distinct tense nature to those as well as the instances where they were fighting the clock to avoid a collision or stop the train before a disaster took place.

One thing I really liked was the setting of the film and the grittiness of how it all looked. It felt authentic in how it presented the railroad industry and workers and the small towns that the train rolled through. That helped separate it from a typical action film.

Denzel Washington turns in a typical Denzel performance that felt all too familiar. He is still very fun to watch and worth the price of admission. Chris Pine was largely wasted here though and just about any semi-charismatic actor could have played the part. As the movie went on the banter between the two of them grew and there were some good laughs out of that. Side-stories with their families were shoehorned in and probably would have been better left out.

(Warning: Spoilers as to the actual events in this paragraph) Reading over the true events a few things have been changed. First the movie takes place in Pennsylvania rather than Ohio, though the make-up of the areas are similar. There were no injuries reported but the movie does have injuries and even death. An early attempt to stop the train did not occur as it was shown in the film and how it was finally brought to a stop was overly dramatized.  How the train escaped and an attempt to derail it is portrayed accurately however.

Unstoppable is a flawed but enjoyed movie. The action is well-crafted and the setting and true-event nature makes it interesting to watch develop. However the liberties it takes with the story and the somewhat forgettable performances keep it from becoming more than just a summer popcorn film arriving in the winter season.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Unstoppable is rated PG-13 and releases on November 12th.