Over 80 years ago, silent movie star Buster Keaton released a movie called The General. Critics at the time didn’t appreciate it, nearly all of whom wrote negative reviews. As time went on, however, the cinema world began to realize its genius. Amidst the goofy humor, it was a movie that featured exciting, life threatening stunts. As I watched Keaton jump from car to car and even ride on the front of a train barreling down a railroad tack, I began to realize just how much danger he was putting himself in, all for the sake of my entertainment. I mention this because that movie is truly something special and if you’re looking for thrills, you need look no further than that. Passing by on the 2010 “train action” movie, Unstoppable, to watch The General instead would be a benefit to you, but if you’re so inclined to venture to the theater this weekend to check it out, you’ll find a stupid, half brained, yet absurdly enjoyable piece of nonsense.
Loosely based on a true story, Unstoppable stars Denzel Washington as Frank Barnes, an engineer at a Pennsylvania railroad company. Along with the new conductor, Will Colson, played by Chris Pine, they set out to do their daily duties, but they soon find out that a runaway train carrying hazardous material is barreling down the track towards them. After narrowly escaping a collision, they take it upon themselves to stop the train before it derails and kills any citizens in its path.
Denzel Washington and director Tony Scott have gone from the subway to the railroad. Last year, they teamed up for a remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, a similarly stupid, but oddly compelling film that more or less has the exact same problems as Unstoppable. What that film lacked, so does this and both can be compared to other, superior films.
And when you do compare, this doesn’t hold a candle to the aforementioned The General. Unlike that movie where the action and excitement came from the characters, Unstoppable relies on objects. It isn’t until the last block of the movie that the two leads find themselves in any real danger and the admittedly impressive (though derivative) stunts begin. Up to that point, we merely watch the train hit other unmanned means of transportation. Ultimately, that is its biggest downfall.
The movie doesn’t bother so much with the characters, uncomfortably forcing in expositional dialogue in the thick of the action, but instead focuses on the runaway train, treating it as if it were this giant monster hell-bent on taking as many lives as it can. There’s no real villain here, though it makes a flimsy attempt to create one in the form of the company Vice President, played by Kevin Dunn, and its demonic personification of the train is absurd.
Truth be told, the events that unfold before the big climax are a little boring, though that doesn’t stop Tony Scott from attempting to create some artificial excitement with his trademark hectic technique. Like Pelham 123, the camera rarely stops moving, circling around the actors and quickly zooming in with the hopes that we’ll be fooled out of realizing that there actually isn’t much happening.
Scott’s irritating style is distracting, but the stars of the movie pull off the material, which helped me to, at times, forget about the incessantly moving camera. Washington and Pine are great together and, although they have only known each other for a few hours at the beginning of the movie, you feel like they’re genuinely bonding and coming to like each other.
Their fine chemistry together makes up for the lack of substance from the dialogue, a nonexistent problem in The General. That movie was more exciting, fun and funny than all of Unstoppable and it was done without the help of spoken word. While I am recommending this for its idiotically fun nature, I advise also watching that Buster Keaton classic so you can see just how easily a movie from the 1920’s can outmatch a modern big budget blockbuster any day.
Unstoppable receives 3/5