It’s difficult to find a really bad movie if Denzel Washington is its star. Throw in Director Tony Scott, for their fifth pairing, and there’s a high probability that the movie is pretty good, and that there’s a fair amount of action. That’s all fairly descriptive of Unstoppable. It’s a bit like the legendary average Chinese meal – good while it lasts, but soon forgettable. Theater people like to talk about being “in the moment.” Unstoppable is completely in the moment, and it fades away very quickly.
The story centers about a 2001 incident in Ohio where a driverless train got loose and roamed along the tracks at about 45 miles an hour until finally stopped by a diligent crew. That train carried some hazardous material, and the movie stays true to that much of the story.
Frank Barnes (Washington) is a veteran railroad man on the edge of retirement. He’s unruffled, laid back and full of wisdom. Washington has added a few pounds, granny glasses and a shaved dome to complete his portrait. He’s paired with Will Colson (well played by Chris Pine). He’s a rookie on the edge of disaster – a teary wife, a hot temper and a yen to get ahead fast. Barnes dotes on his two daughters; Colson wants to preserve his marriage.
The train brings the two gents together as they try to rein it in. Unfortunately, another crew got real lazy, messed up some couplings, and did not set any speed control. Mr. Scott now gives us a couple of villains: the railroad’s bureaucracy, exemplified by Supervisor Galvin; and that darned train, which insists on going too far, too fast. Throw in the continuing threats to cities the train passes through, and another trainload of school kids, and there you have the obligatory tension.
From the opening slow scenes in the rail yard, to shots of the runaway train racing through a very rustbelt hunk of America, the photography is outstanding; so is the acting. Chris Pine looks and acts like a budding star. Washington carries off the role of the wise old pro; and the train practically steals the show. There are enough stunts to satisfy most action freaks, and to keep many a stuntman gainfully employed.
Despite some limitations and a lightweight plot, Unstoppable is fun to watch.