‘Unstoppable’ a tour de force

By Azia Squire


Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson

Directed by:… “Unstoppable”

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson

Directed by: Tony Scott

Film studio: 20th Century Fox


Tony Scott is an easy director to pigeonhole. He likes shaky cameras, sirens, explosions and most of all, Denzel Washington.

“Unstoppable” is the sixth movie of Scott’s that Washington has worked on — one of the reasons why it’s tempting to brand the director a one-trick pony. But this time, his formula actually works.

A Mark Bomback-penned action/drama loosely based on true events taking place in Ohio in 2001, “Unstoppable” opens with inexperienced train conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) sleeping on his brother’s floor in a rural Pennsylvania town. We later learn he’s wound up in marital troubles.

On the job, he’s paired with Frank Barnes (Washington), a veteran engineer with 28 years of experience on the AWVR railway. The duo tries to quickly establish a work rapport, but the task proves more difficult as the movie moves along. Colson keeps messing up under Barnes’s critical eye and Barnes remains unimpressed with “young heads” like Colson. It’s not quite the riveting conflict the movie’s trailer suggests, but it makes for some entertaining repartee between the two men.

While Barnes and Colson continue their passive-aggressive banter, we’re treated to a massive mishap in another Pennsylvania train yard when another worker, Dewey (Ethan Suplee), in an attempt to cut corners while moving the half-mile-long engine #777, leaves the train unattended long enough to send it powering unmanned down the track.

The second half of the movie zigzags with urgency through the rest of the plot, introducing no-nonsense train dispatcher Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), and hilarious railroad wielder Ned (Lew Temple). It’s a fast-paced mishmash of over-the-top, edge-of-your-seat efforts to stop the train — or as Hooper nicknames it, “a missile the size of the Chrysler building” — before it barrels through highly populated towns carrying explosive fuels. These efforts are as fun to watch as they are questionable, particularly the scene in which law enforcement attempts to stop the train by shooting at it.

Despite its enjoyability, “Unstoppable” relies mostly on clichés: Hooper spends half of her onscreen time arguing with “corporate” bureaucrats who hesitate to derail the train for fear of losing $100 million dollars; Barnes’s back-story includes feisty teenager daughters who are upset with him because he forgot one of their birthdays; Colson’s wife doesn’t show interest in repairing their marriage until she sees him risking his life to stop the wayward train on the news. But the film’s attempts at humanizing largely one-dimensional characters aren’t as annoying as they should be.

The always-charming  Washington remains just that in his portrayal of funny everyman Frank Barnes, and takes advantage of the best lines in the movie (“Don’t get sentimental on me, it makes me think I’m going to die”). Pine, for his part, brings an aching tenacity to Colson that’s impressive for the mere 98 minutes he’s given. Dawson is sharp in her take-charge role as Hooper, and even Temple manages to shine as Ned — managing to work in the catchphrase, “It’s all about precision.”

Even though “Unstoppable” is about a train wreck, it successfully avoids becoming one.