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So, here we are. Tony Scott and Denzel Washington's latest
collaboration is pretty much the definition of high concept - a runaway
freight train loaded with thousands of gallons of diesel fuel, eight
carriages of a highly toxic chemical and a worryingly curvy track ahead
of it, versus two train operatives armed with little in the way of
stopping impending disaster bar a one-car locomotive and their vivid
It's not without its faults, but Unstoppable is a brisk, solidly entertaining thriller from start to finish. Scott has little time for characterisation or back story, preferring instead to kick things off via a pair of laughably incompetent rail yard employees roughly five minutes in, and then letting his leads fill in the blanks as we go along for the ride.
Washington and Star Trek's Chris Pine play it straight for the most part - their characters are the reluctant Johnny Everymen found in most films that rely on extended peril for thrills, and they've both nailed the mixture of brooding intensity and occasional comic relief that typifies movies of the genre.
Enough about the acting though - when you're watching a film of this nature, you want the action sequences to impress rather than worry too much about the story, and on this front Unstoppable delivers. Scott's track record in the field puts him in the perfect place to deliver the goods, and there's very little of the distracting, overdone camera-work that has plagued his recent output.
There's perhaps a little too much ShakyCam for my tastes but for the most part everything is shot with enough scope to be extremely impressive. The near total lack of CGI means the film looks suitably gritty and the pace is utterly, utterly relentless - there's no time to breathe here, just set-piece after set-piece with only brief conversational respites to quickly set up the next danger faced by our blue-collar heroes.
This type of film never goes down too well with critics and you can predict the reviews already - yes Unstoppable IS cheesy, it IS forced, it IS derivative and has all the depth of a puddle, but if you want to switch your brain off for 100 minutes and sit back for a magnificently enjoyable slice of escapism, you couldn't do much better. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you've read the synopsis above, you pretty much know the long and
short of Tony Scott's "Unstoppable". Based on the real-life story of an
unmanned train that went careening down the tracks in Ohio after a
railroad employee failed to set the air brakes while switching tracks,
this dramatization of that little incident amps up the thrills for a
white-knuckle 100-minute non-stop roller-coaster ride- just think of it
as an adrenaline shot that pretty much grabs you by the throat and
doesn't let go from start to finish.
The setup is plain and simple- on one end of the track is rookie conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine), paired with veteran railroad engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) on his first day of work. Frank and Will each have their own share of family problems and each bear their own reservations of the other- so there's a fair bit of tension between the two of them as they begin their shift, especially since Will is seen as the company's new blood employed to replace the older workers (including Frank) who have one by one been forced to retire.
Then on the other end of the track, some bumbling employee gets off a train in an attempt to switch tracks, puts the stick in throttle and sends the massive locomotive whizzing down rural Pennsylvania towards the more heavily populated areas. Corporate- represented by Kevin Dunn's VP of operations- and local ground operations- represented by Rosario Dawson's rail commander- can't agree how to stop it, the former as usual weighing the options in terms of dollars and cents on the stock market.
It is only halfway through the film that Frank and Will cross paths with said locomotive nicknamed "The Beast" and come out with a plan to link their engine to the back to it and gun it in the opposite direction. Tony Scott spends the first half of the film doing two things- one, emphasising the working-class backgrounds of Frank and Will; and two, laying out bare the peril of the situation. Both are deftly played for the nail-biting finish, which is guaranteed to leave you wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
By portraying Frank and Will's as everyday men with real concerns over livelihood and family, Scott and "Die Hard 4.0" writer Mark Bomback make the point loud and clear later on that that real-life heroes are really just ordinary men who do extraordinary acts of courage in the face of danger and calamity. Indeed, though it is apparent that both Frank and Will are the heroes of the story, playing down the chest-thumping heroics of their act proves to be a wise choice in painting them as regular people who rose to the occasion to save the lives of thousands, including their families and loved ones.
Scott instead stresses the magnitude of the occasion in repeated failed attempts at halting "The Beast", each and every attempt highlighting the destructive force of the locomotive at that weight and at that speed. Choosing to film the high-octane action sequences in a more straightforward realistic manner than his usual flashy visual style (i.e. jump cuts, shaky camera, zooms and colour-correction) also lends the proceedings an authentic and an altogether genuinely riveting feel, further underlining the gravity of their heroic act. Special mention goes to the sound design of the film, which in a proper theatre with good sound system will set the hall rumbling with the sound of the locomotive.
Because much of the focus of the film is on "The Beast", more screen time seems to be dedicated to the train than to our two lead actors, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. Still, the ever-reliable Denzel Washington delivers a low-key but no less commanding performance as the dutiful railroad worker Frank. He also shares a nice buddy chemistry with Chris, and it's interesting to watch how the initial tension between the two gives way to mutual cooperation, understanding and finally respect.
Unfolding at a breathless pace, Tony Scott makes the most of a simple premise to deliver a relentlessly exciting action movie that plays like "Speed" on tracks. It wastes no time in getting to the meat of the action, and doesn't once let up right until the end of the thrill ride. In between, you get the story of two men, folks like you and I, who display an outstanding act of heroism when faced with imminent danger. Precisely because they are so relatable, "Unstoppable" becomes so much more gripping, and you'd be advised that this high-octane action movie is just the adrenaline fix you need for the week.
This film is about the attempts to stop an unmanned train full of
dangerous chemicals travelling at high speed, endangering the lives of
thousands of people living along the tracks.
"Unstoppable" gets right to the point, action already starts ten minutes into the film. After that, the thrills get better and better. As a result, the film keeps you glued to the screen with increasing intensity.
Early on in the film, I wondered if there was enough to fill the screen time, but there was actually enough to make it action packed, without slow, pacing scenes to interrupt the action. "Unstoppable" is a good action film, relatively free from blood and violence which is rather rare for an action film these days.
Unstoppable plays out like a basic action thriller that keeps us
engaged the entire time. With the train as the center of the story, in
a way we get transported back to the days of great entertainment, where
the storyline is simple, characters pure, and the dialogue isn't
overdone. Here is an action film that stays on track and keeps you
glued to the edge of your seat until the high-intensity climax is over.
It operates at gut-level mode, as we get to follow all the twists and
turns of the main character, runaway train #777. Unstoppable is a
summer movie action blockbuster released in a winter spot that doesn't
pause for a breath as it picks up steam, and most likely you won't
either. It's one of those mindless thrillers that was made so well you
probably will miss a lot of the detail as the movie literally sweeps
you away, which is what a great action movie will do.
Unstoppable is based on a true story that comes out of Ohio where we have a low-level employee who fails to set the air brakes on a train while changing tracks and the issues that ensue as a result. The director Tony Scott, no newcomer to the action genre, sets the stage for the high-octane second half by letting us get to know the 2 main characters: Rookie conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) and veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington). The two both have their share of family issues, which adds to the difficulty of being able to work together initially. Another dynamic we discover is that the company is forcing employees to be laid off, as evidenced by the fact that Barnes is being replaced by younger engineers such as Colson. The 2 characters provide solid low-key performances and we see the tension that initially exists turn into mutual cooperation to work together for a solution, and then at the end, respect.
Solid performance also given by Rosario Dawson, who is both the eye-candy and sounding board for our heroes, planted where she can see all train activity.
As the movie progresses, we come to find out that this runaway train laden with toxic chemicals is headed towards heavily populated areas, and our stomach starts to sink about the devastating possibilities that may occur should everything go wrong. The plan? to link up to the phantom engine from the back and pull it the other way, coming to a full stop.
It is fascinating to watch the failed attempts to stop the train, which seems to add to the power, giving the audience a realistic idea of how "unstoppable" this train truly is with it's 10M pounds of force going full-steam ahead.
In the end what we are left with is ordinary men putting on extraordinary acts of courage. Where there might be chest-pounding there are a couple of family guys doing what they felt should have been done by anyone in that situation, and a humbleness that brings a more realistic quality to the movie.
I'm glad that the sensationalism was toned down so that the thrills that the movie had to offer truly thrilled me. As others have stated already, Unstoppable is truly a "Speed" on tracks and definitely one of the year's finer action movies.
Loosely based on a true story from 2001, UNSTOPPABLE is a tension
packed, heart-racing juggernaut of a movie
about an unmanned, runaway
train carrying a payload of highly flammable fuel and toxic waste that
is heading straight for the densely populated of Stanton, Pennsylvania
Several human errors by an incompetent train driver Dewey (Ethan Suplee "Randy" from My Name is Earl) and his colleagues allows the out of control train to leave the depot without air brakes and security cut out systems and from then on, the race is on to try and stop this out of control half-mile long train "bomb" from devastating a city.
After several attempt fail train driver Frank (played by double Oscar winning Denzel Washington - Training Day, Man on Fire, Malcolm X, Cry Freedom), and rookie conductor Will (Chris Pine - Star Trek) find themselves isolated as the last resort to try and prevent a disaster of epic proportions
Ably directed by Tony Scott (who has something of a history with trains and Denzel Washington Taking of Pelham 123, Man on Fire), UNSTOPPABLE features some really good camera work, low ground shots, blur in movement, close-up action and a very imaginative use of sound and music (this film can be really loud in parts) are things that really emphasizes the feeling of locomotive power, speed and imminent destruction I could swear that my seat was shaking as the train speed increased
Throw in some human drama, agitated animals and a train load of school kids in peril not to mention the annihilation of a whole city and you have all the ingredients required for an edge of the seat action thriller
There are very good acting performances also by the supporting cast, namely Rosario Dawson as Connie Hooper the senior train dispatcher who does an admirable job in keeping the tension up and she is the "glue" that holds all the dialogue, characters and plot lines together Kevin Dunn as Oscar Galvin as Hooper's boss and Kevin Corrigan as Inspector Werner a train safety inspector.
UNSTOPPABLE is very recommended and is a film that really needs to be watched on the big screen in a cinema that has really good surround sound to get the full benefit of the camera work and soundtrack.
UNSTOPPABLE is 98 mins long, is an 12A certificate and will be on general release from Weds 24th November 2010
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unstoppable is a pulse-pounding runaway thrill ride with iron-sided
save-the-day heroism on display courtesy of Washington, Pine and
Spoil sports have been grousing that Unstoppable can't possibly be "inspired by true events." In fact, the runaway AWVR777 in Unstoppable is based on the real-life CSX8888 (crew) Y11615 incident that took place in 2001.
CSX8888 was a single engine pulling 47 cars, 22 of them loaded, for in-yard car switching. The Final Report on the CSX8888 incident is available on the Internet along with other accounts and documentation.
All six "gross errors" committed by the engineer responsible for CSX8888 are reproduced in Unstoppable, one of them being sugar coated with magic pixie dust, when the engine selector handle auto-magically pops out of "dynamic brake" and into "power" mode, with the throttle handle set to 8, the maximum setting.
The dynamic brake should never have been set during yard operations (gross error #4). Dynamic braking is optimal at speeds >=40MPH and it is ineffective at speeds <10MPH (except on AC locomotives, of which 8888 wasn't).
The independent brake of the locomotive was also set, which nullified the alerter switch system, which would have otherwise acted as a circuit breaker to the incorrect selector and throttle settings.
All six gross errors really happened and had to be made in the proper sequence in order to result in a powered runaway.
Two CSX employees chased CSX8888 in a private vehicle to a grade crossing, because they feared that its engineer had suffered an heart attack at the controls. The engineer had already stepped off the moving train back at the yard (gross error # 3). The CSX employees intercepted CSX8888, but were unable to board it.
The runaway CSX8888 did have hazardous cargo on board, variously reported as two cars of molten phenol acid (CNN) or molten sulfur (local Ohio news sources), the latter being less hazardous than the former, although both are toxic. The two hazmat cars were in the middle of the train and they were not considered to be at risk if the train had derailed. The hazmat cars were far enough in, for the surrounding terrain, that they should have remained on the track even if an engine derailment had succeeded.
CSX8888 had an average speed of 30-35MPH and may have been going as fast as 47MPH at one point. Four attempts were made at derailing CSX8888, three by diverting it through sidings and one by using a portable derail. CSX8888 dislodged the portable derail and threw it from the tracks. All attempts to derail CSX8888 failed.
CSX8888 was eventually stopped by a pursuit locomotive, running in reverse, CSX6462 (crew) Q63615. Avoiding a collision course, CSX6462 had to run in reverse, which blindsided the engineer during right hand turns. That required the conductor to setup at the rear of the locomotive, now the front, so that the conductor could spot for his engineer. The maximum unloaded speed rating for CSX6462 was 30MPH. It had to achieve speeds in excess of 50MPH to catch up with CSX8888. This meant that the conductor's end of CSX6462 swayed 18" from side-to-side at times. Had CSX6462 derailed, there would have been no way for the conductor to survive. Life and limb were definitely at risk.
CSX8888 was stopped without loss of life, limb and/or property.
When CSX6462 caught up with the runaway, it coupled from the rear and then the engineer applied CSX6462's dynamic brakes, to slow CSX8888 down, exercising great care not to break the train apart between the two locomotives. Once CSX8888 slowed to less than 11MPH, a prepositioned engineer was able to run alongside, board it and take control of CSX8888, bringing it to an orderly stop.
Almost all of these elements are incorporated into the story of Unstoppable, albeit in Tony Scott's ScottFree way. It's reality x2 and all of that's in the service of delivering a ripping yarn.
The same people complaining about Unstoppable probably swallowed everything Scott & Co served up in Top Gun without chewing.
Unstoppable does make a point of belaboring the fact that the hoses for the air brake system were never connected, but that happens to be SOP for in-yard flat car switching. You can't properly "kick" cars if their hoses are still connected. (That's my only beef.)
There are plenty of other things that never happened, or couldn't have happened, but none of that matters thanks to the acting talent on board.
Denzel Washington's Frank Barnes is a seasoned engineer and 28-year AWVR veteran who never shows any of is his inward concerns, whether they be about job security in downsizing times or worry for his two daughters working their way through college. Denzel's Barnes is all about the j-o-b and doing it right. Chris Pine's Will Colson is relatively new to the ranks of conductors. Rumor in the yard is that Colson's a beneficiary of union boss nepotism. Will's also got domestic problems at home that distract him from the job. This sets up professional tension when Barnes are Colson are paired to crew AWVR1206 for a routine run. Although Barnes has seniority, Colson's technically in charge. Pine & Washington have a lot of tension-cutting fun with this.
Rosario Dawson plays Connie Hooper, a rail control supervisor, who has got to plow through considerable BS, not only to find out what's going on with double-engine AWVR777, but also to figure out how best to deal with it, once it's determined that 777 is a fully powered runaway. Even after "corporate" cuts Connie out of the CBA/CYA loop, Dawson makes us believe that Connie is going to do the right thing, no matter what.
Kevin Corrigan deserves special mention for his turn as FRAMPE Inspector Werner. He convincingly supplies crucial factoids needed to solve the problem of 777, with a Spock-like just-in-time manner.
Even though I did not care whatsoever for the fates of any of the
stick-figure characters that populate Tony Scott's new movie
"Unstoppable" and despite the fact that I still have some qualms with
his directing style, I must confess that this new runaway-train movie
won me over. It works on the principles of late afternoon escapism and
it's quite efficient as a nail-biter. Kicking off to big bursts of
kinetic action almost right from the beginning and lasting for a taut
ninety-eight minutes, it proved itself as one of the more wholesomely
entertaining action movies I've seen in the last half of the year.
The movie is based (loosely) on the CSX 8888 incident of 2001, in which a freight train ran amok and unmanned across the state of Ohio for two hours. Here the setting is switched to Pennsylvania and it's running at such high speeds that it threatens to destroy Stanton should it derail itself on an elevated railway and smash its toxic cargo. Of course, for the conventions of the action/escapism movie plot, we've got two troubled heroes who are just going through the motions of their not-so-happy lives when they assume the Superman personality and race against time to stop the train.
The train is the real star of the movie. More interesting than the people trying to control it. Director Tony Scott gives us several impressive and creative shots of the half-mile-long mechanical monster as it rampages around. Listen carefully to the soundtrack and amongst all the crashes and grinding sounds you'll hear noises reminiscent of the tyrannosaurus in Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park." The movie almost seems like a big-budget homage to Spielberg's early-career movie "Duel" in which you had an innocent man being pursued by a giant tractor-trailer.
The characters are modeled after Action Movie 101 Writing stereotypes. You know, the veteran and the rookie. One of them is splitting up with his wife, the other is having a hard time maintaining a relationship with his daughters. You've got the noble yardmaster wanting to save lives and the greedy, vulgarity-spitting corporate executive whose more concerned about how much dough he's lost. And, of course, it takes a major catastrophe in which lives are risked in order to glue everything back together again. And no, morbid as it sounds, I didn't care who lived and who died.
However, *however* the filmmakers are smart enough to play with this to their advantage. They do not waste any more time than they really need to with this flat caricatures and instead devote as much of the brief running time as they can to very gritty action sequences. I must commend Mr. Scott for his ability to coordinate his pyrotechnics crew. Although I still detest his overly extravagant dolly shots and irksome "quick zooms" (in which the camera inches in and out of people for no reason at all) he does hold your attention when letting loose a wave of inertia. The last quarter of the movie is consumed by an enormous, very intense action sequence that develops suspense and nail-biting tension reminiscent of "Back to the Future." Complications are thrown in and as they kept on coming, I gradually discovered myself nervously toying with the zipper of my jacket. He also does a fantastic job of balancing sequences with "Live Television" shots as news cameras record the incident.
"Unstoppable" is not a work of art, but heck, it's not trying to be. Movies are meant to be one of two things: art or escapism. "Unstoppable" is the latter. It achieves exactly what it is targeting: ninety-eight minutes of blood-pumping action, smart-alec dialogue, and a barrel of fun for all who participate. It's more fun (and less painful, for me) than any roller coaster I can remember being on at the fair. On the basis of it being a solid matinée thriller, I liked the movie.
Denzel Washington, as the wise old train veteran, is his usual self: sincere and convincing. Chris Pine is also in fine form as the goodhearted but troubled rookie whom he finds himself both bickering and laughing with. Rosario Dawson, an underrated actress, turns in another strong performance as the yardmaster supervising the disaster. And Kevin Dunn is sinister despite the two-dimensional character he's given to play. Supporting roles are played mechanically but well by Ethan Suplee, Meagan Tandy, Elizabeth Mathis, and Jessy Schram.
P.S., the movie almost shoots itself in the foot at the end, but just ignore that, as everything before it works just fine.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I will make this short and sweet, which is exactly what the movie could
have been if anyone with half a brain had been in charge of stopping
The acting and direction were adequate, and the movie was not a complete waste of time, but it was just absolutely ridiculous that the train could not be stopped sooner. *Minor Spoiler* There is a scene about 40 minutes in, were they attempt to stop the train by putting a moving train in front of the runaway train and to gently try and bring the speed of the runaway train down by using the brakes of the front train. Now this seems sensible if it weren't for the man dangling from a helicopter who will be lowered onto the roof of the train when the speed drops below 40 miles per hour...HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! If the front train and the runaway train are touching each other then you could literally walk across from the one train to the other. A 1 year old could have crawled between the 2 trains. There are so many shots of the 2 trains touching that I lost a lot of respect for the movie after this. It was a completely over engineered rescue just for the sake of suspense. My grandmother and I could have stopped this train...and that's with my grandmother doing all her own stunts.
Simple, Thrilling, and Very Entertaining. Unstoppable never tries to be
anything more than it is. It follows a runaway train that occurred in
Pennsylvania and the two men that try to stop it. First off, I gotta
five Tony Scott credit for making a film about trains, that in itself
is pretty interesting. How many people know about and use trains
regularly? Then take that and turn into one of the most suspenseful,
entertaining films of the year culminates into a really good time. The
film's opening credits starts with how the train was lost and runs
away, so right off the bat you know that it's not going to be a dull
film. Before any of the main characters are brought into the story the
antagonist and therefore the action get underway. Your then introduced
to Will, played by Chris Pine, and Frank, played by Denzel Washington.
Will is the rookie conductor that is placed under the veterans Frank's
wing. Then you have Connie, played by Rosario Dawson, as the head of
all the trains currently running, basically a conductor that oversees
all operations, who is in charge of finding a solution to the runaway
train, while also dealing with the corporate suits, mainly Oscar
Galvin, played by Kevin Dunn, who are more interested in stock prices
and money losses then the overall safety and physical damage the train
could cause. So, after some failed attempts to stop the train, Denzel
comes up with a plan to stop it, and this is where Will and Frank
become involved with the runaway.
Tony Scott does a pretty good job of making the runaway train look menacing, almost like a monster that no matter what you do always keeps coming for you. The majority of special effects and stunt work were done realistically with very little CGI being used, which for me is always a plus. With it being based on a true story he definitely uses a lot of tactics to make it feel less like a film and more like your actually watching the action happen presently. There's a lot of bird eye shots of the trains making it feel like a news helicopters are shooting it, while also cutting to news broadcasts following the runaway train through the majority of the film creating a more realistic view of the whole story. He also filmed on location in Pennsylvania, which was pretty cool living in central PA and having the opportunity to talk with some of the crew.
As for the characters, the first half of the film, is where the majority of the very little character development comes into play. Will and Frank bicker back and forth at each other, when unsurprisingly they find a common bond through broken families with their wives and children. There are also many conversations, which mostly turn into arguments, between Connie and Oscar about how to stop the runaway train and the potential problems it could cause. Yet, due to the pacing and strategic place of key conversations you end up caring about the characters and are pulling for them to get out of this disaster alive. The most important and character revealing dialogue occurs during the more explosion filled scenes with the train.
Overall, it's a pretty fun time, and never has a boring moment. Just when you think the dialogue may be getting a bit to breathy and boring, Scott crashes the runaway into some object causing a major explosion. It's one of those no brain activity films that you can just sit back and enjoy. The characters are there and Scott makes sure not to fill the runtime up with too much dialogue, but with just enough to develop Frank, Will, and Connie into people we want to see succeed. Lastly, it doesn't try to be anything more than it is. It's a film about a runaway train and the people trying to stop it, that's it. Unstoppable is a thrilling ride and a guaranteed enjoyable viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This would be a PERFECT movie for Mystery Science 3000. 30 seconds into
the film I was squirming in my seat from the unrealistic dialog and
scenarios. I've totally lost respect for Denzel Washington as an actor
appearing in such a piece of trash.
From what I can remember of the hard to believe scenes of the film: 1) A young, female, African American is the head yard master. Sure, that's believable.
2) A small regional railroad has a yard master building jam packed with jumbo flat panel screens and elaborate hi-tech equipment. Was any research done on this film? 3) Only a passing mention of the "dead mans" device in the locomotive? A device that would bring the locomotive to a halt in seconds regardless of whether the loco had its air supply connected to the rest of the train.
4) The train making the turn at high speed and lifting off the side of one rail at a sever angle, then plopping right down on the track again. At this point I felt like I was watching an animation.
5) News helicopters at a 45 degree angle inches away from the train (on both sides!), going 70 miles an hour. Sure. Happens all the time.
6) What on earth did the fact that the daughters working at Hooters have to do with anything in the film? Maybe a little ad placement, eh? What amazes me the most about all of this is that so many people gave this relatively high ratings. I don't understand how anyone could watch this and not see the absurdity in it.
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