There’s a great shot in Unstoppable when the train runs full-speed ahead toward a horse trailer parked on the tracks and we see a little groundhog scurry right in front of the train. Director Tony Scott said in an interview that he had no idea the varmint’s burrow was right next to the track and kept the shot in the film, calling it a “happy accident.” That’s a perfect microcosm for the film. It has no business being this good, but I’m happy it is.
It’s thriller that actually thrills and probably the fastest 90 minutes you could spend in a theater this year. Scott (Man on Fire, Top Gun) delivers a pulse-pounding, sweating-in-your-seat, bite-your-nails-’til-they-bleed piece of work — easily his best since True Romance.
The action guru’s penchant for breakneck pacing and frenetic editing has never been more apt than in this “inspired by true events” tale. Chris Pine (Star Trek) and Denzel Washington play the unlikely duo who take it upon themselves to stop an unmanned train running in excess of 70 mph. Oh, but this isn’t just any train. It’s a half-mile-long and filled with explosive chemicals. Yes, that indeed makes it “a missile the size of the Chrysler building.” Thank you, Rosario Dawson.
Watching the trailer as someone unfamiliar with the story, I was under the impression this was some sort of terrorist act. Turns out it comes as the result of human error with Ethan Suplee (American History X, The Butterfly Effect) and T.J. Miller (She’s Out of My League) fittingly playing the dimwits who screw the pooch, claiming “it just got away from them.” Like it’s a shopping cart or something.
There’s plenty of character building and plot development but the action never stops. The veteran engineer (Washington) and the unproven young conductor (Pine) are at each other’s throats in the early going, but we later see them bond over personal issues while doing 80 mph in reverse. Dawson is also convincing as the woman on the radio giving our heroes information and fighting against the nasty corporate boss (Kevin Dunn) who values stock price over human safety.
The bevy of effective one-liners make Unstoppable easily the most quotable movie of the year and I, for one, will be anxiously waiting the perfect moment to say with a straight face “we’re gonna run this bitch down.”
Watching Unstoppable, I couldn’t help but think Buster Keaton knew this was where the medium was headed when he filmed The General back in 1926. And of when Orson Welles exclaimed “this is the biggest electric train set a boy ever had” when walking into RKO Pictures in 1939 to begin work on the later abandoned Heart of Darkness.
Denzel isn’t near the athlete Keaton was. And Unstoppable damn sure isn’t Citizen Kane. But I think they’d both be jealous of Tony Scott and his $100 million train set right now.