Unstoppable

Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington & Chris Pine
Runtime: 98 mins
Rating: ***

Unstoppable is showing in York at Reel Cinema. Click here for further details, and have a look here to see what films are showing at Reel this week.

Capitalising upon the success of Man on Fire, Déja Vu, and the recent remake of Taking of Pelham 123, director Tony Scott teams up once again with Denzel Washington, in this all American action-thriller. Washington plays a senior freight train driver, with over 28 years of experience in the trade. Left in charge of Will (Chris Pine) a new trainee, on an unspecified job, the two go about their business as if it were a regular day at work. Meanwhile half-way across the state, the mistake of one worker causes an unmanned train, with a highly explosive cargo, to race uncontrollably along the same line towards the duo at upwards of seventy miles per hour.

There are no prizes for guessing that the remaining eighty minutes of Scott’s movie will be spent trying to stop the runaway train on its path of destruction. As it charges across the state of Pennsylvania, destroying everything in its path with a testosterone infused brutality, one can’t help being caught up in the shamefully delicious macho action. The problem at hand lies in how to stop a train with a highly flammable and toxic cargo, without causing a national disaster. The film is tight and polished. It is a movie which has quite clearly been directed with a formulaic precision, whilst managing to retain the air of spontaneity vital to make it successful. Thrillers often have the tendency to degenerate into a ridiculousness which can render any remaining plot or outcome unsatisfactory (remember that ridiculous jump the bus makes in Speed?). Unstoppable, however, retains a sense of believability – at least in its predicament of the runaway train – which in some ways gives it an unprecedented integrity.

The scenes of bonding between Will, (Pine) and Frank, (Washington), which intersperse the action, as the two recognise the real danger of their situation, though clichéd, offer a welcome relief from an otherwise claustrophobically intense plot. Whilst they do provide respite, the faux poignant conversations conducted by the two come across to some extent as a half-assed attempt to create emotional depth amongst the mayhem of the situation. These are attempts which ultimately fail, seeming decidedly subsidiary in a movie more concerned with presenting us with gloriously excessive footage of trains smashing into things.

Whilst it is perhaps a little disappointing to see Washington playing yet another similar role in yet another Tony Scott movie, there is no denying that he does it well, and no doubt that he will continue to do so. Unstoppable is a movie which offers everything a thriller can, and perhaps a little bit more – most surprisingly in the form of a subtext critiquing America’s neoliberal mindset. Perhaps Scott thought he’d found a winning topic – trains – Unstoppable being the second movie he has directed in 16 months on the seemingly mind-numbing subject. Whilst managing, by some unbelievable feat to make films about trains interesting at all, Scott offers nothing new to the genre, but this doesn’t seem to matter, for what he does, he does well. Unstoppable is an out-and-out wild adrenaline injecting ride, an edge-of-seat thriller in the truest sense.

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