Cinemalphabet: U is for Unstoppable (2010)
It’s been a long time since we’ve really had a Denzel vehicle we could reduce to a singular chant, yelled at pep rallies and basketball games. Well, kids, they done brought it in the film Unstoppable. The last time Tony and Denzel brought a train to the station, I was not enthused about the ride. But the train – so to speak – is back on track and more action packed than ever.
I thoroughly enjoyed Unstoppable. It’s been a while since an action film – this one’s destined to be a classic – had me completely invested from jump street. It’s also been awhile – we’d have to go back to Die Hard – where a working class hero felt fully realized on screen. Unstoppable does not romanticize the heroics of its two lead actors – Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, in very strong performances – or their lived experiences as working class folks.
I should start by suggesting that you throw out whatever preconceived notions you might have of the film based on the trailer or past experiences with the lead actors or the director. It’s not that kind of action movie. Unstoppable is like if King of the Hill and Roc got together with Grace Under Fire, everyone worked for a train yard and Tony Scott dropped by with his swinging crane to film the whole thing. The characters, while familiar, are well drawn, authentic and do a damn good job of actually resembling the kind of folks they are supposed to represent. Both Pine and Washington have added some softness to their normally movie star physiques, which in Pine’s case really helps you forget that whole Kirk business.
I was a little anxious during the beginning of the film, which despite being extremely efficient in its dispensing with the exposition, had a bunch of shots of different trains leaving stations, title cards and I felt as though I was in the middle of a word problem on a test I’d forgotten to study for. I was trying to keep up with all the information – much of it new to me – the number of trains involved, the physics at play, the school children and most comprehensive knowledge of train stuffs than I’ve ever encountered in a film. But as I became more emotionally invested in the story, I was able to relax and accept that Scott and the script would keep me in the loop.
There is a scene stealer and his name is Lew Temple whose comedic, but no less riveting performance is totally Luckylicious and serves to give the audience a bit of a release valve at key moments of the film so we won’t tear the arm rests out of the seats. Also along for the ride is Rosario Dawson as the crispy Connie, an operational manager who is trying to figure out how to prevent “The Beast” – the nickname for the out-of-control locomotive, carrying toxic chemicals that could turn a town uninhabitable faster than you can say “Silkwood,” – from killing a bunch of people and destroying property in a populous region of Pennsylvania called Stanton.
Refreshingly devoid of both the insatiable carnage the and CGI that frequently dominates movies of the “Die Hard on a ____” genre, Unstoppable holds your attention with the frenetic pacing, the clearly outlined dilemma and an engaging cast of characters whose motivations – right or wrong – are well reasoned, yet leave room for a few surprises. There are lots of surprises which I will not reveal. In the end, Unstoppable is not about run away trains, working class folks doing noble things or greedy corporations privileging profits over people; though these elements are certainly a huge part. Unstoppable is about how a group of working class folks come together to resist being “collateral” damage for a corporation more interested in preserving their cargo than the people who transport it. It’s also one helluva ride!