MOVIE REVIEW: Unstoppable


Is their a more dependable actor working today than Denzel Washington?  Denzel puts out a movie, sometimes two, every year and directs on the side.  Tom Hanks doesn't kick films out that fast.  Neither does Tom Cruise.  Like Hanks, the respect he carries is unquestioned and his image is impeccable.  He's not jumping couches anytime soon.

Denzel Washington's films are never mega-blockbusters.  Only three of his films have grossed $100 million (American Gangster, Remember the Titans, and The  Pelican Brief) or more and none have crossed $200 or $300 million (unlike many for Hanks and Cruise).  However, he's consistent and his films are always well-regarded, modest hits that showcase eclectic and different roles for its star.  Eleven of the last twelve movies he's starred in (excluding the two independent films that he's directed) have put up $20 million-plus opening weekends at the box office, including his latest, Unstoppable.  People forget that he's done Shakespeare on stage and came up doing St. Elsewhere on TV to go along with the Oscars for Training Day and Glory, along with nominations for Malcolm X and The Hurricane.   His range is ridiculous.

Unstoppable is Denzel's fifth collaboration (following Crimson TideMan on FireDeja Vu, and last year's remake of The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3) with director Tony Scott of Top Gun fame and younger brother of fellow director Ridley Scott.  With that filmography together, it's a fitting place that we get a reversal for Denzel from Crimson Tide, where he played the new guy to Gene Hackman's experience.  This time, it's Denzel who's the veteran and Star Trek's Chris Pine as the young gun in a clash of wills.  Instead of a nuclear submarine, we get a freight train.

That's where the comparisons for Unstoppable end because it crosses new ground for action.  Take the best of Tony Scott (hyper-fast camera turn shots, quick cuts, and an unquestioned knack for peril from the University of Jerry Bruckheimer) and add an artificial "creature-feature" element of a runaway train.  The train steals the show from Washington and Pine, and that's hard to do given Denzel's presence and Chris's charisma.  

While the runaway half-mile long "777" train is packed with highly-explosive chemicals and speeding through southern Pennsylvania at speeds in excess of 75mph with no one at the controls, it isn't a great white shark set to John Williams music, but it might as well be.  You will never see a more growling, intimidating, and unrelenting inanimate object in a movie like this train.  This sure as hell isn't Thomas the Choo Choo and it should have been numbered "666."  It echoes shades of the stalking Peterbilt semi from Steven Speilberg's early film, Duel, but a lot bigger, meaner, and more destructive.  Tony Scott's shooting style and the big sound brings it all to life to very dramatic effect.  You'll think it's going to run over you next sitting in that theater seat.

What results is an outstanding, only-made-in-America, macho manly action movie. Unstoppable follows veteran rail engineer Frank Barnes (Washington) paired for the day with fresh young conductor Will Colson (Pine).  We get the typical (and appropriate) "Denzel Washington Sidekick Pissing Contest and Mental Gauntlet."  Sure, we've seen it before in Training Day, but nobody probes, tests, and judges a man like Denzel.  He's a little wiser now and the coy tension fits the situation as these two guys learn to work together with their differences in age, aspirations, and motivations.  When our runaway rig comes along that needs stopping, they've worked out their issues and turn into Riggs and Murtaugh right on schedule.

Every manly man in America will enjoy this movie.  If you walk out of the theater going "Oh my god, that was too loud!" or "Why did they have to do that?" then you're obviously not a manly man and we'll tear your man card right with your ticket stub.  Plot is secondary and action is king.  Does it matter or add any brevity that it was inspired by a true story?  Nope.  Just buckle up and enjoy the chase. This is vintage stand-up-and-cheer Tony Scott spectacle.

LESSON #1: CROSS THE T'S AND DOT THE I'S OF YOUR JOB-- You'll see in just about every craft, trade, or profession that it's the details that make or break your job.  If you're a surgeon, you might remove the bullet or tumor with the best of them, but you still better know how to stitch and suture.  If you're a racecar driver, pass and drive like a bat-out-of-hell, but be able to slow down for a pit-stop too.  If you work in a railyard, check the breaks and turn off engines before you jump off a lumbering train.  Details!  Details!  Details!  Do the little things.

LESSON #2: DON'T UNDERESTIMATE TRAINS-- They may look slow and innocent at first, but they pack a punch and are a lot bigger and stronger than you, your gun, your wall, or your car.  Don't believe that?  YouTube "train vs. car" or talk to a police officer who's been on an accident scene.  They'll tell you who wins and loses.

LESSON #3: SET ASIDE YOUR DIFFERENCES WHEN THERE IS A CRISIS AT HAND-- This is all too easy to see here.  When it comes to crisis or life and death situations, the moment and need becomes bigger than any one man's ego.  When it becomes about saving lives, we are all on the same team.  Resolve your differences later and work together for the greater good.

LESSON #4: REDEMPTION CAN BE FOUND IN COURAGE AND SACRIFICE-- You may be down.  You may be losing, but redemption, success, and victory can come from putting yourself out there and on the line when a challenge comes along.  Having courage and the willingness to sacrifice can reignite the lost spark and empower you to do tremendous things and turn your bad luck around.