At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Unstoppable “2010”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Chapman, Lew Temple, T. J. Miller, Jessy Schram, David Warshofsky, Andy Umberger, Elizabeth Mathis, Meagan Tandy, Aisha Hinds, Ryan Ahern, Jeff Wincott/Runtime: 98 minutes

I think it should be said that when just looking at this slice of cinema on a surface level, 2010’s Unstoppable in many respects feels very much like a holdover from an era when the majority of the population still had a fondness and even a respect and passion for the railroad. Yes the locomotives are still out on the tracks and making their way across the United States of America while carrying pretty much every single thing that a truck can’t deliver (to say nothing of travelers who want a fairly unique travel experience that a plane can’t give them). At the same time however, the fact still remains sadly that the majority of the land of movie magic doesn’t really have that much care let alone fondness for locomotives and they haven’t since I would guess at least since 1985. The reason incidentally is because 1985 was the year when a pair of movie stars by the names of Eric Roberts and Jon Voight respectively made a little teeny tiny slice of cinema known as Runaway Train. A project which, despite being a fairly successful movie, also proved to be the concluding chapter in about 20 years or so of both TV and film projects which dealt with a railroad losing control of a train near a populated area and not having any way whatsoever to stop it. Suffice it to say that since then almost everyone has since put trains on the cinematic backburner. That is unless your name just happens to sound like the name Tony Scott and/or the name Denzel Washington. I say that because it would seem like this iconic film helmer and his just as iconic lead actor have developed a fixation of sorts when it comes to the locomotive or at least that would appear to be the case since two of the pair’s many collaborations before Scott’s untimely passing dealt with the subject. Thankfully, Unstoppable proved to be the better of the two in a lot of ways. Yes I know that might not be saying a whole lot when the other was 2009’s highly underrated remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Yes the plot that this slice of cinema is equipped with is one that seems like it should be seriously tired due to how often it was utilized in film. At the same time though, given how little it has been done since the previously mentioned year of 1985, sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder. Suffice it to say that had this slice of cinema been made in the immediate aftermath of Runaway Train I can see how the whole package would have been a clichéd affair from top to bottom. Yet by being made in 2010 however, Unstoppable proves to be a truly riveting and engaging thrill ride which takes a few of the ideas of ol’ and puts a fresh coat of paint on them thus resulting in a close to two hour trip down the tracks that you should definitely take the time to engage in. I promise you won’t regret it.

The plot is as follows: Desperate to get this cinematic train on the rails as soon as possible, this slice of cinema gets swiftly underway by introducing us to one of our heroes, a young freshly minted conductor by the name of Will Colson whose week so far hasn’t exactly been going the way that he thought it would. Indeed not only has he here lately decided to put his marriage on a long-term (possibly permanent) pause, but he really misses the heck out of his son and upon arriving for his first day of work at his new job at the Alleghany and West Virginia Railroad, pretty much every single one of the veteran employees really seems to have it out for him. Of course when you are the daisy-fresh, young, union-backed newbie who also happens to be the nephew of the company’s head honcho who has just decreed that all these older guys are to be put out to pasture….can you really blame them? I mean honestly. At any rate, we see that Will is to be partnered up with a long time member of the railway team by the name of Frank Barnes. A fairly knowledgeable about his job kinda guy who, among other noteworthy attributes, is a single father whose two college-age daughters work at the neighborhood Hooters and who is pretty much the dictionary definition of the words no-nonsense and pragmatic. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinema is choosing to give us a typical odd-couple type situation between our two leads. However it isn’t long before this pair of argumentative and very reluctant to be working together guys are going to be thrown head-first into a truly nightmarish situation that will really call to task not only their combined ingenuity and courage, but also force them to work together to have a chance to make it through the day. This is because, unbeknownst to our buddy duo, on the other side of the state, a highly unprofessional fellow railyard employee inadvertently sends his unmanned and quite lengthy in size train going down the main line at full blast. In case that’s not enough of a crisis however, we soon learn that the airbrakes onboard are not operational, eight of the cars the train is carrying contain violently explosive materials, and the train is going at full speed to Stanton, Pennsylvania where a conveniently placed over a fuel depot curve will see the train derail and a town-annihilating event to occur. Oh and something about this out-of-control train missile speeding head on towards a train that is being ridden by close to 200 elementary school kids who are on this train…..to learn about train safety (nothing like a bit of irony to make this even more entertaining). Thus it is up to our dynamic duo, with the aid of a yard master named Connie Hooper and her team, to try and not only catch up to Thomas the Runaway and Faster Than a Speeding Bullet Train, but to find a way to bring it to a stop before it derails and wipes out a town let alone any other trains or anything else in its path…..

Now an initial glance over the main points of this slice of cinema consisting of (in no particular order) a runaway locomotive on steroids, a bunch of life-ending perilous chemicals onboard, and a pair of working class guys who wind up having to step up in order to save the day may call to mind a whole host of other slices of cinema, but unlike some of those however, this is one that doesn’t really have much in the way of social commentary or analysis. Instead, this is a slice of cinema that is designed to be a top-tier decently budgeted action slice of cinema that is meant to just entertain you no more and no less. As a result, this slice of cinema’s cast of characters are fairly one-dimensional albeit performed well, every single person’s motives for the actions that they take are fairly simplistic, and there is really not a whole lot in the way of substantive narrative material. Yeah if you really wanted to I am sure that you could view the runaway train in this as a cinematic representation of the 2008 economic crisis that had the potential to annihilate small-town Americana. At the same time however why on Earth would you read that much into a slice of cinema that really is meant to just be a fun and thrilling popcorn film? Suffice it to say therefore that behind the camera film helmer Tony Scott managed in his final film to give the audience exactly what they had come to expect from the iconic director of such masterpiece slices of cinema as Crimson Tide and Top Gun and that is a riveting slice of cinema that will most assuredly leave you on the edge of your seat. I mean from moments involving Denzel engaging in a precarious game of leap-frog on a moving train to a moment where the train all but annihilates a horse trailer that is sadly stuck in its path, Scott does a terrific job at making sure to showcase it all in that trademark frenzied camera-style of his. Along with that, we see that in a big plus Scott makes the choice to have everything on display seem authentic and believable. Indeed it really doesn’t matter just how much in terms of visual effects work was utilized in this since everything we see looks terrifyingly real to the point that it really feels like you are seeing legit trains engaged in actual chaos on tracks scattered throughout a section of the Rust Belt in the United States. Suffice it to say that in terms of the work being done behind the camera this is a top-notch slice of cinema although I should also let you know that if you are the kind of person who gets motion sickness then you might want to have a bag with you….just in case.

Now in terms of casting, I will say that this slice of cinema does benefit from having a terrific cast to follow on this wild train ride. This of course starts with its two leads consisting of Denzel Washington and Chris Pine and it should come as no surprise to learn that they both manage to do wonderful work in their respective roles. Indeed Washington, surprise surprise, does dependably great work in his typical highly skilled everyman part that he has come to play so well whilst Pine manages to actually hold his own against Washington phenomenally well and actually give his character some much needed and very much appreciated charisma and gravitas all his own. Not only that, but the chemistry shared by Washington and Pine is absolutely spot-on as not only do both actors get opportunities to engage in heroics, but they also have a wonderful back and forth with each other that yes I am sure a lot of is material we have seen before whenever you see a wise and slightly cranky older character partnered up with a daisy-fresh rookie, but there is no denying that Washington and Pine manage to make it feel both fresh and enjoyable. Meanwhile in terms of co-starring work, we see that this slice of cinema is the blessed recipient of some wonderful performances. Indeed this includes, but is not limited to Rosario Dawson who as Connie does a convincing job at being an authoritative figure who learns to trust our two main characters and their respective abilities rather than the vast majority of what her superiors would have her do about this situation, Ethan Suplee who brings a tragic quality to his part as the screw-up who puts this whole affair in motion, Lew Temple who does a wonderful job in his role of the snarky and wee bit of a loose cannon yet skilled nonetheless lead welder Ned Oldham, and Kevin Dunn who is able to do well with the typical quasi-sorta antagonist archetype of the corporate executive who puts more emphasis on the potential loss of money than those who might die. Suffice it to say that everyone involved manages to make the most of their respective parts no matter how much screen time they are given or how cliché their role may be.

All in all if you want a thrilling slice of popcorn cinema that feels like a taut and riveting throwback to such slices of cinema as 1985’s Runaway Train then you should definitely check out Unstoppable. Indeed this slice of cinema is a top-flight entry in the thriller genre that manages to incorporate virtually every single component that has managed to make its’ helmer one of the more iconic action cinema directors during his career. No this slice of cinema is not going to get any points for intelligence, but at the end of the day Unstoppable still proves to be a top-flight escapist slice of cinema that also manages to be a wonderfully grandiose and thrilling movie that, with the aid of its helmer operating at the peak of his talents and a truly gifted cast operating at the pinnacle of theirs, makes for an absolutely fun and electrifying viewing experience to be had time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Unstoppable “2010” a solid 3.5 out of 5.