Having been pushed to the limit by the quintessential “need for speed” hyper-masculine adrenaline junkies who used and abused the man-made machines and vehicles that populated Tony Scott pictures of the past, in 2010’s Unstoppable, a locomotive gets revenge.
Taking advantage of the human error that allowed it out of the rail yard in the first place, an unmanned coaster succumbs to its engineered need for speed, turning into a fully-powered runaway train hurtling along the track through heavily populated areas in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
And while Train 777 is comprised of thirty-nine cars, the “train” that we can call Scott’s roughly hundred minute Unstoppable is essentially made up of three “cars” or areas of focus.
Likened to a “missile the size of the Chrysler Building” by yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), given the fact that 777 is carrying eight freight cars of toxic waste coupled with thousands of gallons of flammable diesel fuel that could lead to unspeakable death and destruction, Unstoppable is first and foremost an incredibly intense disaster-themed action movie.
Consequently, because every action movie needs heroes, screenwriter Mark Bomback introduces us to the archetypal nearly retired veteran (Denzel Washington) and the fresh-out-of-training upstart (Chris Pine).
While the obligatory male bonding layer of the film is surprisingly the weakest link because neither character is particularly likable until more secrets are revealed rather late in the game, Pine makes the most of a difficult role and proves he can fit right in with the powerful one-two punch combination of Denzel Washington and Tony Scott in yet another highly compelling collaboration between the men.
Realizing that their corporate minded bosses are thinking of collateral damage with an emphasis on dollars rather than preventing destruction, the two blue collar conductors turned heroes take it upon themselves to utilize “the need for speed” … before ultimately doing the unthinkable in a Scott film by embracing the need for brakes to slow that train down to a complete stop.
And indeed it’s that allegorical third layer of subtle satire regarding our political and economic climate that makes up for what Unstoppable lacks in empathetic characterization as Dawson’s Hooper (easily the most fascinating character in the movie) finds herself up against a brick wall when it comes her desire to put everyone’s safety before the company stock share points of her selfish superiors.
Unlike the more conversational approach used in Scott's underrated topically and thematically similar 2009 train-oriented predecessor The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Unstoppable doesn’t have an overt villain because you can’t exactly blame technology that was made by man.
Nonetheless, Bomback's script is bold enough to remind us that, while the movie’s bona fide heroes are thinking in terms of black and white, there’s still an awful lot of gray that threatens the characters in Unstoppable once they get off this train and board the one called life, as downsizing, job loss and domestic woes abound.
And it's because of their refusal to make Unstoppable an overly simplistic man-on-a-mission thriller that we’re more willing to suspend our disbelief even when the ultra action-oriented final act begins to spiral out-of-control as Washington and Pine dubiously run and jump atop the fast-moving train like superheroes rather than everyday heroes rising to a challenge because it’s the right thing to do.
Needless to say, although the male bonding moments that rely on words would’ve benefited from another rewrite, overall Scott's thrilling action speaks much louder than a few clunky exchanges as they place their trust in one another completely.
And when it comes right down to it, the ultimate reason Unstoppable works so well is because the studio found the right man for the job in Tony Scott who put so much effort into the film that he called it the scariest and most demanding one of his career.
Heightened by the filmmaker’s emphasis on real action as opposed to computer graphics, Tony Scott’s audacious shooting style that employs twelve cameras, ultra-fast zooms and (eventually) unorthodox editing by Chris Lebenzon and Robert Duffy turns the work – loosely based on true events – into a visceral suspense movie.
As such, in my eyes Unstoppable is far too stressful to be deemed a popcorn picture. However the addition of a digital copy in Fox’s Combo Pack is nonetheless a bonus for those of you wanting to take it with you on the go when in need of an all-consuming distraction.
Admittedly, even on a WiFi networked top-of-the-line BD player -- similar to the studio’s recent releases of 127 Hours and Machete -- Tony Scott’s film takes a little longer than average to load.
However, Unstoppable, which has been given a superlative, startlingly vivid Blu-ray transfer that fires on all cylinders, is well worth the wait and the lesson that we don’t always require “the need for speed.”
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.