Let’s face it, real life is not very interesting most days. That is one of the reasons movies have such power over us; they offer a fantastic escape from reality. Thanks to the magic of special effects and suspension of disbelief, films have the ability to take us places our lives cannot. Usually we have that concept in mind when we hear that a film is “based on actual events.” We assume that the filmmakers have taken some liberties with the story to make it more exciting.
The best movies based on real life however keep a balance between the true account and the sensationalized version to create a convincing tale. “Unstoppable” fails to maintain that grounded perspective though, exaggerating its version of the events to a ridiculous degree. This film is so completely unbelievable; it will have you laughing at its sheer lunacy.
One morning a dopey railroad employee leaves the locomotive he is operating to hit a switch track. As if this is not idiotic enough, he accidentally leaves the throttle engaged instead of the breaks, causing the unmanned train to accelerate onto open tracks. After he informs his supervisor Connie (Rosario Dawson), she makes the grisly discovery that this train is towing hazardous chemicals capable of igniting a mighty explosion.
While Connie and the railroad company are scrambling to find a solution to stop the runaway train, we are introduced to a veteran engineer named Frank (Denzel Washington) and a fresh-faced conductor named Will (Chris Pine). Frank is training Will, when the two learn of the rogue train. Since they are close by, they decide to help stop it before it reaches a city, where it can do serious damage.
Probably the scariest true aspects of this tale are that a person allowed an unmanned train to escape their custody and that it was actually carrying dangerous chemicals. The film horribly exaggerates the attempts by authorities to stop the train though.
“Unstoppable” shows the train traveling up to 70 miles an hour, effortlessly destroying objects in its path. Since it is moving so quickly, authorities try a number of comical measures to stop it, the most ridiculous of which involves lowering a person from a helicopter onto the moving train.
What makes the efforts so insane and hilarious is the media circus surrounding them. Even though the train is supposedly filled with flammable liquid, there are helicopters swarming it the whole time, capable of crashing into it and causing an explosion. Equally bizarre is that the news stations know the exact plan and the names of the people involved, which never happens in real life. They even take it a step further by having stock photos of non-public figures queued up during the broadcast.
Not even the presence of a veteran actor like Denzel Washington or the keen eye of director Tony Scott can save this film from being judged as ludicrous. Washington’s performance as the tenured engineer Frank is believable but nothing exceptional, and Scott does not introduce interesting styles of shooting on the rails. You should avoid this one in theaters if you want a good action movie, but go see it if you’d like to laugh at incompetent people fumbling to stop a train that does not even have someone driving it.
My Grade: C -