Obviously Unstoppable is Speed on a train, but it’s about 15 years too late for that comparison. Maybe now it’s more like The Fast and the Furious on a train. It certainly is the fastest, most furious movie of the year.
For a while the film feels very serious, emphasizing the deadliness of the runaway train. That’s a valid point of view for a disaster movie, but you still kind of want to see the fun train crash adventure Unstoppable actually get to have it both ways. You feel really anxious about public safety and deadly consequences. Then it switches into pure hero mode with Frank and Will sticking it to the evil corporate suits who just want to protect their stock value.
There’s union talk that speaks to the current economic crisis. Does young hotshot Will Colson (Chris Pine) have what it takes to ride with veteran conductor Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington)? Even as a train conductor, Washington can’t not be in charge. Meanwhile, yard master Connie (Rosario Dawson) tracks the slowly escalating “coaster” situation.
The film really builds to a fu fast and furious thrill ride. Every attempt to stop the train is exciting and you appreciate how the script tries every possible permutation of suspense. Mark Bomback knows how to build the action of the premise. There are plenty of railroad crossing incidents. It looks like these are real crashes, old school practical stunts with glorious destruction.
Every suspense scene builds expertly. Even the first one where the train loses control, when we know that’s what the movie is about, still makes you antsy, hoping lazy conductor Dewey (Ethan Suplee) can catch it. Judging by the trailer and the cast list, I don’t think a supporting character is going to prevent the disaster 20 minutes in, but darned if I wasn’t thinking, “Come on, come on…”
The style is pretty restrained for Tony Scott. The film actually looks clear so you can see what’s happening. There’s only a little shaky cam, but all the sweeping, flying cameras over the train make up for it. Cutting in news camera footage makes sense and is actually effective.
Unstoppable is my kind of movie. Just give me a clear premise and show me everything that could possibly happen in that situation. I prefer the more fun, outrageous attitude but I think they’re going to get both audiences on this: the serious drama crowd and the crazy action crowd.