Denzel Washington's Unstoppable: More Alton Towers Than Movie

An innocent town, comprised mostly of sugar, spice and everything nice. One runaway train, loaded with rats, snails and puppy-dog tails. Can two ordinary guys like Denzel Washington and Chris Pine save the day?
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An innocent town, comprised mostly of sugar, spice and everything nice. One runaway train, loaded with rats, snails and puppy-dog tails. Can two ordinary guys like Denzel Washington and Chris Pine save the day?

I kind of feel a bit sorry for Tony Scott. Despite having made such well-loved classics as Top Gun and True Romance, he’s basically doomed to spend his entire career in the shadow of his older and better brother Ridley – never quite managing the same levels of critical success and respect. He’s essentially the Paul Ross of Hollywood.

In recent years, he seems to have become resigned to this fate and has evidentally thought to himself, “Ok, fuck this art shit. I’m just going to make movies with cool stunts and massive fuck-you explosions then..” None of his recent output - which includes films like Man on Fire, Déjà Vu and a remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 - will have troubled any awards juries but has established him as the master of the dependable Saturday night balls-on-the-table action flick.

The latest entry in the Tony Scott canon (and yes it is a canon. A giant big cock of a canon that fires nuclear bombs and explosions that last for ages) is Unstoppable, which arrives in cinemas this weekend. The film is based on a true story - though probably not that closely, I wouldn’t have thought. Stuff that happens in real life tends to be a bit boring and lacks enough AWESOME THINGS for Scott’s liking.. It stars Denzel Washington and StarTrek’s Chris Pine as two railway workers who find themselves in a race against time to stop an unmanned runaway train that’s loaded with deadly chemicals and hurtling towards a heavily populated area.

"You couldn’t really see this film working in England. Network Rail and the East Coast mainline don’t quite have the same potential for dramatic tension"

Now, the main thing you need to know about this train is that it is FUCKING. MASSIVE. Weighing in at one million tonnes and measuring half a mile in length, it’s essentially a skyscraper-sized missile traveling at 100mph towards a town filled with doe-eyed school kids and kindly grandmothers. Scott, along with his photography and sound design teams, do a great job in bringing this colossal steel monster to life and they really make you viscerally feel just how fucking big and intimidating a freight train can be. I also really liked the depiction of Rust-Belt Industrial America; a side of that country you rarely get to see in the movies.

Character and dialogue-wise, it’s all fairly undemanding stuff. Washington and Pine play the classic mismatched partners – one a wise old railway veteran, the other a hotheaded young renegade – who eventually come to form a grudging respect for each other. Even more thinly sketched are the evil train bosses at ‘Corporate’ who are seen callously number-crunching on the golf course while the ordinary working stiffs are out there risking their lives:

  • “We could be looking at up to 100,000 fatalities here sir.
  • Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm. And what would the resulting stock devaluation be?”

There are also lots and lots of scenes where people shout absolutely meaningless technical jargon at each other with an almost comical urgency:

  • Hold that dynamic at four!!
  • What’s that car doing at D16?!
  • Was the throttle in Notch 8?!! WAS THE THROTTLE IN NOTCH 8??!!!

You couldn’t really see this film working in England. Network Rail and the East Coast mainline don’t quite have the same potential for dramatic tension. “Didcot? This is Variable, over. We are out of BLT’s, I repeat we are out of BLT’s!”

However, none of this really matters. If you want a goatee-stroking cultural experience, go and watch Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. With Unstoppable you’re signing up for a big stupid adrenalin-soaked adventure. It’s more like an Alton Towers ride than a film, but then that’s not always a bad thing.

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