Director Tony Scott likes action films and casting Denzel Washington, and with his latest he delivers another enticing combination of the two. Yet while Washington chews up the scenery with his whimsical charm, the runaway train blazes its own course of demolition that offers a few sensational scenes of destruction but little actual substance. “Unstoppable” may describe the out-of-control juggernaut but “overdramatic” is the word for its presentation. From incessant camera zooms and close-ups of somber visages to the heavy electronic rock score from composer Harry Gregson-Williams, the film utilizes a multitude of tactics that feigns real excitement. Much of it does work temporarily in the moment, but minutes later its deceit gives way to numerous annoyances and queries of “why didn’t they just do that in the first place?”Newly hired train conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine) is partnered with veteran railroad worker Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) for a routine delivery in southern Pennsylvania. Their task becomes anything but routine when a runaway train carrying hazardous chemicals begins barreling towards them at uncontrollable speeds. When initial attempts at stopping the unmanned train fail, and the steel behemoth now threatens to careen through heavily populated cities, Will and Frank devise a perilous plan to stop it that might save thousands of lives – at the expense of their own.
The premise is like “Speed” on speed, with Tony Scott’s signature editing techniques overpowering the suspenseful events at hand. It’s unfortunate that Scott has stuck so faithfully to his particular style of cutting together films – it’s so regular and frequent that it’s become typical of his work. Fast zooms, rapid fades, cutting to and from close-ups, and the blurring, burning and dodging of colors accompany segments of existing tension to exaggerate the immediacy that should come naturally. The addition of Gregson-Williams’ thundering score helps to pull white-knuckle thrills from circumstances and solutions that many will critically pick apart.
The “training-the-rookie” routine is effective for establishing chemistry between Pine and Washington, with the young-and-old contrast furthering their oppositeness. Between the two, however, Denzel steals the show, demonstrating once again his mastery of the everyman through a believable demeanor and hilariously sarcastic dialogue. Despite the severity of the impending calamity, humor frequently breaks up the seriousness, along with lengthy moments of bonding over eye-rolling character backstories and the irony of a train disaster striking on the day of children’s safety training. Although some of the railroad lingo is funnily doublespeak (throttle, lash-up, independent/air/dynamic brakes, derailer, rip track and coupling to name a few), the inevitable playing “chicken” with trains, failed attempts at stopping the juggernaut, and congestion of politics (the cost of equipment, property damage and dropping stocks) and other track-worthy vehicles makes Unstoppable unexpectedly more complex.
– The Massie Twins (www.GoneWithTheTwins.com)