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A simple, solid, and very intense thrill ride from start to finish.
It would not be much for me to say that above, having Denzel Washington re- teaming up with his frequent collaborator, director Tony Scott, on yet another movie involving a train very soon after last year's "Pelham 123". Comparisons, no matter how many people try to avoid it, is futile. One is always going to end up better than the other.
Fortunately, "Unstoppable" is better than "Pelham 1 2 3". The main reason is that while "Pelham" works as more of a crime thriller, "Unstoppable" like the title suggests, is an action film. It has exhilarating action sequences laced with heart-stopping suspense and white-knuckle thrills the moment that train is let loose. It is cliché to say it, but it's terrific edge-of-your-seat entertainment. For those who are short on thrills after bland after-summer borefests (here's looking at you, "Takers"), this movie is for you.
Is it going to win any Oscars? With a movie like this? No, of course not. This isn't "There Will Be Blood". It's not exactly intelligent, but it is mostly believable. Inspired by true story, writer Mark Bomback's ("Live Free or Die Hard") script is fueled on one simple, very basic premise - a runaway train of doom (complete with highly toxic and explosive material packed in the last of its carriages). There are no human villains, just human heroics, stupidity and carelessness, plus a speeding and out of control giant bullet that can cause certain doom for many people. Those human qualities are what gives this film a realistic and believable edge.
The heroes are just everyday guys like you and me - Denzel Washington especially proves himself adaptable to every role assigned to him; in fact you can say that Washington plays himself in many his films, with that friendly smile and gentleman-like charm. He is tense, and worried when the role requires him to, and you feel for him and root for his character all the way.
But Washington is not alone in trying to stop this missile-on-wheels. Chris Pine here shows star power, and he has many heroic moments. I'm not saying that all looks, no substance. The guy shows, like Denzel, emotions when he needs to. The chemistry between him and Denzel is great, the buddy moments were there as well.
Both of them are the two main characters, but others are busy trying to stop this giant behemoth (most to useless effects). Rosario Dawson, Kevin Dunn and Lew Temple all give solid supporting performances as they try to stop the train at all costs.
Yes, the script could use some reworking, especially in the cliché- filled dramatic parts, but Mark Bomback's script is ultimately an extended chase sequence that doesn't relent the moment it starts. The aforementioned dramatic moments take place during the action, so the film's pace is about as tight as a bullet. It's short, simple (we're talking bare-bones simple here, don't expect any hidden meanings to be unfurled like the vastly superior "Runaway Train" by Andrei Konchalovsky), and straight to the point. And perhaps that is why "Unstoppable" works - it has a very nice touch of simplicity, with an easy to understand plot and like-able, everyday guys who have no choice but to save the day before pandemonium breaks out.
Technical wise, it is outstanding. All of the films action sequences are filmed with REAL trains and REAL destruction and mayhem, making it perfect eye candy for action junkies drained of an adrenaline rush. Twisted metal and explosions are (almost) always a joy to watch, ESPECIALLY if they are real - but in this film some may cringe with the action sequences, knowing that it may destroy a town - the danger is there. Not a tinge of CGI (perhaps only the sparks?) is seen throughout the film. The production design - the setting of the film which takes place in rural Pennsylvania, is calm, serene and kind of homely (most of the film is set outdoors, for obvious reasons). The cinematography, thankfully, is bright, lively, and crisp - thus allowing the audience to see the scenery as well as the action sequences in all their glory - the shaky-cam is sparingly used, and even so, you can still see what's going on as the shaky-cam is used from a distance. The editing is also very fluid, Chris Lebenzon has definitely learned and improved from his dizzying and messy hatchet job on "Pelham", but this is also due to the intervening of other editor Robert Duffy, a frequent collaborator of avant-garde filmmaker Tarsem Singh. Frequent Scott collaborator Harry Gregson-Williams also composes a tense, if not unoriginal, orchestral score that gives tension to scenes when it needs it.
Last but not least, director Tony Scott himself. Here is a man who knows how to make an action film. Having made many action films for nearly three decades, age has certainly done nothing to slow his signature style down. The direction is kinetic and focused, and Scott delivers the action goods in spades. I think, due to the friendship and frequent collaboration with Denzel Washington (this film marks their fifth collaboration overall) that Scott continues to be an in-demand action film director, and this film contributes to that winning streak. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Take this - anybody can describe the film's plot in just two words: runaway train. If people want to see a movie about a runaway train, they certainly got it in the form of this film. It's what they pay for. See it with friends, especially in a big theater hall with a nice sound system. Glad to see a movie that works entirely without flashy CGI and 3D visuals, and still manages to be a terrificly entertaining crowd- pleaser.
Overall rating: 70/100 (Good)
Edit: R.I.P. Tony. Such a shocking end to a marvelously kinetic career. You and your films will be missed. Condolences to Ridley and the Scott family.
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