Director Tony Scott returns to the world of high speed pursuits in Unstoppable, his fifth collaboration with star Denzel Washington. Inspired by true events, the film follows an out-of-control train as it tears through the Pennsylvania countryside and the two mismatched railroad employees who take it upon themselves to stop it.
I must admit: while Tony Scott’s filmography is fairly populist and mostly enjoyable to me, I’m beginning to tire of his frenetic style and predictable storylines. Never has this been more apparent than in Unstoppable, a movie that – by the very nature of its plot – almost demands that you sit on the edge of your seat but never actually does anything to earn that demand.
Most of the reason I didn’t particularly care for the film is due to the lackluster script by Mark Bomback. It’s exactly the type of movie you think it’s going to be, and the movie takes absolutely no risks in telling this story. Every character is a walking cliche, from the hard working but under-appreciated Connie Hooper (Dawson) to her buffoonish boss (Dunn), and the movie somehow manages to make the main characters almost totally uninteresting. There are the standard family issues – Washington’s Frank Barnes is losing touch with his teenage daughters, Pine’s Will Colson has a strained relationship with his wife and son – but there is so little time spent building those relationships that we don’t particularly care if the issues are resolved.
Sometimes a movie can be so mediocre that it angers me more than a truly awful film. I feel bad ragging on a movie like this because A) I’m not a screenwriter, nor do I know to what degree the studio altered the script and B) it’s actually a competent movie and I’m sure a lot of people will like it. It’s comfort food for your eyes on the big screen, with serviceable performances from everyone involved but nothing fresh about the presentation. Many of Scott’s films tell stories that have been told before, but usually he brings something new to the table that at least makes it interesting (Top Gun‘s dogfighting sequences, for example). In Unstoppable, even the action is predictable and without consequence. (Small spoiler alert – even the one railroad worker we think dies in an action scene is revealed to have miraculously survived in a cheesy end-credits explanation scene.)
Nearly everything about this movie seems uninspired or too on the nose, even down to Scott’s fetishistic portrayal of machines as villains and the John Henry-esque human spirit triumphing over it. This film also had trouble gaining speed (so to speak) in preproduction; Washington dropped in and out of involvement and rampant budget cuts came down from the studio, and those problems seemed to translate into the final product. There’s no life in this film, and everything is frustratingly average. The only patch of brightness belongs to Ethan Suplee, who sells the guilt of causing this whole thing with ease but – again – doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD
I was thoroughly unimpressed with Unstoppable, but what did you think about it? Did the Apollo 13 ending seem endearing to you or more like an inadequate imitation? Sound off in the comment section. And shouldn’t this movie have been called Stoppable? Until next time…