Unstoppable is fun, rollicking and harmless. It's loud, it's clangy, it doesn't take itself terribly seriously, and it provides a good helping of arm squeezing “Oh Jesus” moments.
“Oh Jesus” moments: where something harrowing occurs on screen and the person next to you grabs your arm and exclaims “Oh Jesus!”. These moments occur in Speed, Silver Streak, Die Hard, Not without my daughter, and True Lies. And now, Unstoppable.
Unstoppable has it all. Last second escapes, speeding trains colliding. A guy a few days from retirement dying in a fiery explosion, douchey corporate american bosses getting what's coming to them, and Rosario Dawson being damn lovely.
In case it slipped by, “Unstoppable” follows (ha) a runaway locomotive containing dangerous chemicals, and the various attempts to stop a half mile long train before it hits a deadly turn that will surely derail and explode the train, chemicals, and surrounding town. But the plot is actually pretty unimportant. All you really need to know is that this is a movie about stopping a big heavy thing that doesn't want to stop.
Since Roland Emmerich started making disaster movies on a global scale with “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012”, the smaller, more intimate disaster movie has sort of gone the way of the dinosaur. In the 70s there was the “Airport” franchise, which was sort of like a retro “Saw” in that there was a new campy installment each year. Some were decent, others were bad, but the point wasn't to be good, it was to be entertaining on as many levels as possible.
“Unstoppable” entertains superbly. You can roll your eyes at some of the hokey shots and plot points, laugh at the ridiculous nature of a guy attempting to repel into the cockpit of a train moving 70 miles an hour, and maybe even get a little enthralled as it chugs along to it's predictable, but still “Oh Jesus!” inducing climax.
One thing you will not roll your eyes at are the special effects. This movie brings the goods in terms of making us believe this story visually. I didn't notice one CGI train or explosion, and it was nice to see a movie using practical effects for a change. There was a curious shot where police try and derail an explosive train within feet of cop cars, and sometimes the train looks like it's not going as fast as it should, but these criticisms are minor considering the film nails the monstrosity that is the modern locomotive.
Tony Scott directs the movie like an episode of “24”. Shaky cams, quick zooms, Grainy footage, and we even get a CTU in the form of Train Control headquarters. This is all in stark contrast to the framing device of the film, which is in the form of a Fox News broadcast.
The fox news footage is curious in that it's blatantly fake, and none of the shots featured in this supposed news segments would be seen on TV. But even this observation involves over thinking the movie.
Acting is serviceable, there's a level of polish to these performances that was never really seen in the disaster films of the seventies and we never cringe too much at a line of dialog or an awkwardly phrased sentence, which is astounding considering big budget action adventure movie “STAR WARS EPISODE 3”couldn't figure it out. Rosario Dawson is a strong woman that doesn't make a point to say she's a strong woman, so obviously her performance will be ignored. Chris Pine is a guy going through a divorce, and Denzel Washington is a veteran of the rail yard who was just forced to turn in his papers. The fact that these characters even have back story is a bit baffling, but it's there for the same reason the backstories are in movies like 2012. You need it, even if you're not interested in it.
The movie I'm reminded of when watching this film in curiously, United 93. Not because of plots or themes or similar chaotic nature, but instead because that's the last real film that was like this. Stopping the thing you can't stop makes for wonderful movies, and the genre has died. Unstoppable brings it back. It's about time.
Some of the shots are repeated and very hokey, such as one that features the cam riding over the camera, as we look at the train pass over the camera and the track. This is repeated maybe four of five times in the film.