It was essentially by accident I ended up going to see Unstoppable. My local cineplex updating their website to say the new Narnia movie was released on Thursday. Stupidly, I forgot to check which Thursday this was, and ended up having to pick something else instead. Unstoppable seemed like the lesser of the evils on offer (Due Date, London Boulevard and Machete among my other options).
Unstoppable is essentially Speed with a train. A driver gets out of a train to quickly switch tracks. However, the lever keeping it at a slow speed slips while he is doing so and off the unmanned train goes at around 70mph hurtling towards almost certain disaster.
On another nearby train are Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. They play workers at opposite ends of their careers. Washington’s experience, and Pine’s need to prove himself the only thing preventing a literal train wreck from occurring.
The movie opens with one of my most hated of statements: “Inspired by real events”. Hated because what story ever written has not, on some level, been ‘inspired by real events’? It just seems like a cheap way of saying: “something in real life happened similar to this, but we’re going to exaggerate/change parts of that when it’s convenient.”
Despite my initial cynicism, this was a surprisingly watchable movie. It’s well paced, well acted and its use of television added an emotional resonance that helps ground the film.
Also, even with its apparent promise of exaggeration, the way events pan out felt believable and contrary to a lot of movies in this ‘disaster’ genre. Washington and Pine deserve a lot of credit for doing a lot with very little. Their ability to create a relationship which moves from resentment to respect adding at least a touch of depth to what is ultimately a fairly one-dimensional disaster movie.
Unstoppable is a great film about an out of control train. However, it is just a film about an out of control train. Beyond the thrills and spectacle that brings, there’s very little else to it. Credit should be given to Scott for making an enjoyable film about so little. It’s just a pity he didn’t use his ability to pace and dramatise a story to actually say something.