Thursday, 25 November 2010

FILM: UNSTOPPABLE

Elliot Hyams gets on board for the story of runaway locomotive 777.

Train 777 rolls out of the Pennsylvania Station, picking up speed rapidly. It carries a half mile long cargo made up of fuel and chemical containers and it is heading towards a highly populated area. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be that alarming, but no one is driving Train 777, its air breaks have been disengaged and nothing can slow it down. For all intents and purposes Train 777 is now an unstoppable missile. Based on a true story, this is the Plot of the new Tony Scott film, Unstoppable. When all other strategies fail to stop the speeding monster it is left to two fearless railway employees, played by Denzel Washington and Star Trek’s Chris Pine, to risk life and limb to bring the runaway locomotive to a halt.

I was genuinely surprised by this film, the trailers made it look interesting, but not the kind of film that would leave a lasting impression. But to his credit Tony Scott has created a compelling piece of viewing. It is hard to place this film within a particular genre, at times it feels like a disaster film, complete with experts who give ample warnings of impending doom and greedy business men who ignore them. There are elements of drama as the two central characters each have emotional crosses to bare, but these tagged on side stories mostly fall flat. Where Unstoppable excels is when its lets go and becomes a chase movie. The determination of the two men to catch up with and stop Train 777 is thrilling and leads to genuine moments of dramatic tension. The films is well shot, Scott resists the flashy look that has been the calling card of his action films instead going for a more naturalistic style, this combined with the use of faux news footage adds to the sense of realism and impending doom.

The script isn’t particularly impressive and often slips into tedious clich├ęs but the two leads do great work with the material they have. Washington has made a career out of turning in good performances and he is as watchable as ever as veteran train driver Frank Barnes. This is the kind of subtle character that he excels at and it is a pleasure to watch him return to form after the tripe that was The Book of Eli. The genuine surprise of the film is Chris Pine, he more than holds his own against Denzel as Will Colson, a young conductor with something to prove. But perhaps the greatest presence in the film is the runaway locomotive itself. Scott gives great character to Train 777. It roars like a T-Rex, destroys anything in its path like the Terminator, and at times is almost reminiscent of the shark from Jaws. Not since Dual has a form of transportation had such a malevolent on screen presence. Unstoppable isn’t exactly a classic, at times it is predictable and many of the characters seem to have been directly lifted from the big book of disaster movie stereotypes, but in terms of excitement it delivers on all fronts.

Review by Elliot Hyams

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