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