Review by Jack Foley
TONY Scott may, to many minds, have derailed himself with hostage thriller The Taking of Pelham 123 but his return to the tracks for Unstoppable is pure adrenaline-rush cinema.
Inspired by a true story, the film reunites him with Denzel Washington for a fifth time and follows the fortunes of two men – one a veteran, the other a rookie – as they attempt to stop an un-manned train from hurtling into a town with disastrous consequences.
It is, in many ways, as close to the high octane thrills of Top Gun as Scott has come in a long time, as well as being a required ride-along for anyone who gets their kicks from films like Speed.
But thanks to a strong cast, it also has emotional weight too… even though the personal stories involved allow for Mark Bomback’s screenplay to really roll out the clichés. Thankfully, Scott doesn’t dwell on them too long, or the obligatory crowd-pleasing moments of congratulatory cheering.
The true story in question stems from a 2001 incident in America where a 47-car train carrying toxic molten phenol acid inadvertently (or through human error) left the yard without an engineer on board and charged through Ohio for more than two hours before being boarded and brought to a halt.
Scott’s film stays pretty faithful to these events, and places Washington’s veteran engineer Frank and rookie newcomer Will (Star Trek’s Chris Pine) as the men at the centre of attempts to stop them unfolding.
Watching and trying to assist from the sidelines are the likes of amiable train traffic manager Connie (Rosario Dawson) and the overweight engineer (Ethan Suplee), whose lazy attitude triggered the events in the first place.
Corporate America and, therefore, the only real ‘villain’ in the film is represented by Kevin Dunn’s Galvin, a number-crunching finance boss who advocates taking risks with human lives so long as it keeps the company costs down.
Scott clearly has fun playing on blue collar workers sticking it to the man and saving the day, and should easily get audiences behind him on this one. But he also makes sure that you genuinely care about the characters too.
Washington brings typical charisma to the role of Frank, a father of two whose beloved daughters work at Hooters, and who is facing redundancy and his final days on the job.
He’s the sort of character who marries a sharp ability to gauge which risks are worth taking and which are not, and who is prepared to give colleagues a hard time until they begin to impress him.
Pine is on the receiving end of this, at first, but gradually the two men bond over the crisis at hand, as Will reveals himself to be a kindred spirit in many ways… a father facing similar estrangement from his family, who is just trying to stay afloat in an honest, if mis-understood way. The two share some very nice interplay and chemistry.
At a lean 99 minutes, it’s testament to Scott’s skills as director that the emotional element isn’t lost, mixing nicely with the action… which gets ever more breathless as the film progresses and the stakes rise.
The final 20 minutes or so are simply stunning, with the technical achievements coming into their own in an old school fashion. Many of the stunts were performed for real, with Scott eschewing the need for CGI where possible.
The result heightens the authenticity of the stunts and, as a result, the sense of peril facing its two leading men. And wherever possible, the director can’t resist tossing in some trademark carnage (trains crashing into cars, cars flipping over, etc), which is delivered with typical aplomb.
The overall result is a shamelessly entertaining crowd-pleaser that finds the Washington-Scott partnership hitting the same sort of heights they’ve previously reached with the likes of Man on Fire and Crimson Tide, albeit with a 12A certificate. Jump on board if you can.
Running time: 99mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: March 28, 2011