Tuesday 22 March 2011

Today's Review: Unstoppable

Unstoppable is that movie about trains with Denzel Washington in it. No, wait, that other one about trains with Denzel Washington in it. He plays Frank Barnes, a veteran engineer who works on a railroad, mentoring Will Colson (Chris Pine), a new conductor also working on the railroad. Since one's old and one's young, there's some friction, but hey, they're professionals, they can control themselves. Plus they both have problems with respective members of their family shunning them, so they've got something to talk about.

So off our intrepid soon-to-be-heroes go to perform a good day's work, spouting some train based nonsense that I don't know, but it sure makes me think they know what they're talking about. Meanwhile some lumbering employees have to move a big-ass train from one track to another, and they spout some more train based nonsense that only serves to tell me that some form of brakes aren't functioning and that they may know what they're talking about, but don't care much. Somewhere along the way the driver hops out to flip a track switch, and through some Final Destination style trickery the throttle gets knocked up in his absence.

So, we've got a runaway freight train, uncontrolled. Oh, and it's also carrying toxic chemicals. But here's the kicker, there are school kids on a field trip on the very same line. Their field trip is actually being on the train, learning about railway safety. How lame. When I was at school the train was a way to get to an exciting place. But you should see the kids on this train, they're excited as hell. Although how you learn about being safe on a railway while you're on a train, I don't know.

The school kids don't get obliterated, sadly, but the train still rolls on, with plenty of other things to smash in its path. But when all rescue attempts fail, Barnes suddenly formulates his own plan to stop the runaway, and since they both have someone they need to prove themselves to with heroics, Colson joins in too.

The suspense never really lets up in this movie. The "villain" may be a train, but it's a pretty domineering bad guy given the size and the reiterations of the damage it could do. It helps that the chemistry between Pine and Washington is really great and helps you to identify with the characters. Washington mans the intercom like a pro also, something he healthily established in his previous railway outing The Taking Of Pelham 123.

For a big Hollywood disaster movie, it's refreshing to see less emphasis being placed on special effects and explosions and more on the potential danger of the situation. The train and setting must have cost a shedload, but it all goes towards the constant suspense rather than several quick thrills. There's not too much to be said against the movie in general, some cliches are in place, but I wouldn't expect there not to be any. Unstoppable is probably one of the best Hollywood action thrillers i've seen in a while.

My rating: 4/5

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