I’ve been busy attending the AFI Festival this past week, where I got to see several Oscar-bait movies like The King’s Speech, Rabbit Hole and The Fighter. Quick reactions? Colin Firth, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo will most likely get nominations. Full reviews will come closer to the film’s respective release dates. For now, I’ll discuss Tony Scott’s Unstoppable, opening Friday, November 12.

This seems to be the season of movies based on true stories. The Fighter is about boxer “Irish” Micky Ward while King’s Speech details King George VI’s stuttering problem, 127 Hours is Aron Ralston’s story, Conviction is about Betty Anne Waters, The Social Network looks at Mark Zuckerberg, and Fair Game retells how Valerie Plame Wilson was outed as a CIA agent by the Bush administration. Unstoppable now joins the ranks, being inspired by the 2001 incident of a runaway train that traveled unmanned for 66 miles through Ohio before it was stopped by a lone trainmaster. (Read a detailed account here.)

In the movie, the crewless train is speeding towards Stanton, PA with toxic chemicals on board and no air brakes. Various dangerous attempts are made—and fail—to stop it so it’s up to Frank Barnes, a veteran railroad engineer (Denzel Washington), and Will Colson (Chris Pine), a rookie conductor on his first day at the job, to pull off one last desperate maneuver or die trying. And that’s pretty much the whole plot.

The movie has a few tense moments, solid acting and some good stunts but the loud unrelenting action eventually becomes redundant. Scott’s motivation seems to be, “Let’s see from how many different angles I can show you this train.” Shots of it coming straight at you are stunning at first but after a while I thought, “I get it—it’s a train.” If only Scott had invested as much time in the human characters’ backstories as he did on his camera techniques. The director’s reunion with Washington following last year’s The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 adds to this movie’s sense of, ahem, deja vu. If you’ve seen any of the previous Scott-Washington collaborations (this is the fifth), you won’t find any surprises here.

Nerd verdict: Not a train wreck but does run out of steam

Photo: Robert Zuckerman



  • Reply
    November 11, 2010 at 6:57 am

    Yeah, Tony Scott’s films can be that way. Still, I plan on seeing this, well… because it’ll be big, loud, and filled with action. Perhaps, it’ll be mindless. But hey, I’m a guy ;-).

    Thanks for the review, Elyse.

    p.s., I still want to see those other films you reference too.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I remember something on the news about the story, but I wasn’t sure what had happened. Just… Runaway train, look out! That was about it. I haven’t liked a train movie since The Silver Streak. OMG, just aged myself. Will see what else is playing before seeing this.

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    November 11, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    le0—I knew you’d see this anyway.

    EIREGO—Kudos to you for remembering Silver Streak!

    • Reply
      November 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm

      I agree. Plus, given the recent and sad passing of Jill Clayburgh I’ve been thinking of doing a double feature of Silver Streak and Starting Over in remembrance.

  • Reply
    Coffee and a Book Chick
    November 11, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    I love Denzel Washington, but it seems to me like this is the only type of movie he’s been picking lately (action, action, action!)? He’s a brilliant actor, so where are the *real* movies from him?

  • Reply
    November 11, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Other “true based” movies for 2010: SECRETARIAT, EAT, PRAY, LOVE, PRINCESS KAIULANI, and CATFISH…I think it would be FUN to have all of the “real life people” these movies are based on make an appearance “together” at an awards show? :0

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    November 12, 2010 at 3:29 am

    I’ve had my fill of runaway vehicles for the foreseeable future, so I’ll catch up on some reading instead. You have had a busy week, haven’t you!

  • Reply
    November 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    So, I went saw it anyway because of peer pressure. What were they thinking? I think your line in the review “I get it, it’s a train.” hits home. I think there’s like a dozen shots of the train accentuated with loud noise! It was hilarious. And what the heck was with the kids on a field trip to see the trains storyline all about? What a pointless waste of film. It goes nowhere! Then I find out that half the dang story isn’t even true!! That’s the last time I let my stupid friends talk me into seeing a movie I can tell is going to underwhelm.

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