Unstoppable (2010 movie) review…

Unstoppable (2010 movie) review after the break…

Unstoppable (2010 movie) review…

There’s a difference between movies on a train and movies about trains. Both types of movies can be interesting but, so often, film makers forget to realize that there is a difference and as a result, often make an inferior movie.

“Unstoppable” is a 2010 movie starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine (the “new” Captain Kirk) as two train operators who eventually become involved in attempting to stop a runaway train that just so happens to have some nasty cargo on board that, when detonated, goes “BOOM!”. A slew of supporting characters also emerge, from the track operators to corporate owners all attempting to stop the train before several lives are endangered.

There’s no reason to string this review out, so I’ll just write it – There’s not much to this movie… At all. Really. Denzel Washington plays the grizzled veteran just days away from getting laid off while Chris Pine (obviously), plays the young new guy trying to emerge from his family name’s shadow. Every major character in this movie seems to have an emotional issue and this sets up the first fault of the movie – Excessive “COMPELLING. HUMAN. DRAMA.” syndrome. I understand why people want the drama – They want the drama because they want to feel connected to the characters, they want an emotional investment in the movie. The problem, though, is that the drama isn’t about the runaway train but about family issues that have nothing to do with the train. The practical reason why moviegoers must often suffer through COMPELLING. HUMAN. DRAMA. is because it is a cheap trick by scriptwriters to pad out a screenplay. Having people talk about their favorite crayon color is cheap. Performing a bank robbery on screen is expensive.

Look – I liked some aspects of the drama, such as Denzel revealing that he’s a few days shy of being laid off. That aspect of the drama is compelling because it has to do with the runaway train. He has an emotional angle to the runaway train. Yet the whole on-again / off-again romance that Pine is involved with is the type of drama that clutters up the screen and has no business in this movie. What’s that in there for? The movie should have focused more on Pine’s “I’m not my family, I’m me” angle, which would have been a better focal point as that would have compelled him to be more daring in stopping the runaway train.

Runaway trains, quite frankly, aren’t very exciting unless they are crashing into things and this runaway train is no exception. The movie goes out of it’s way for this train to crash into things or attempt to crash into things. A few of these incidents go a long way and savvy movie goers are going to cringe at a few of the cliches on display in the movie. A train car full of children on a field trip? Yup, this movie goes there because there’s nothing as original as pushing a baby carriage into mid-day traffic. Corporate’s first plan to stop the train fails? Obvious. Second plan? Ditto. Sassy track operator’s advice trumps corporate plans? Yawn. Been there, done that.

The fundamental weakness of this movie is that there is never any mystery about this train – It’s just a runaway train. We see, on film, how it becomes a runaway train. In fact, the film goes out of it’s way to display all of the little mistakes made in order for this train to become the runaway train that it is and this display of errors dilutes the impact of the runaway train further. Are you telling me that there’s such incompetence at the railway station that this stuff has the potential of happening every day… Everywhere? Really? It would be one thing to have had this runaway train become one through a terrorist plot or some other conspiracy but the runaway train is a result of employee bungling. The film purposely squanders a valuable dramatic tool for no apparent reason, maybe because they thought that we’d care more about Pine’s romance or Denzel’s daughters then for a thriller aspect.

The film is reportedly based on but not meant to be a reproduction of a similar runaway train scenario that occurred in real life a few years back. If this film wanted to depict that event, then perhaps they should have simply made a documentary about that incident. Documentaries of such incidents are compelling because real life is compelling and the fact that such an incident actually happened gives such events an automatic amount of weight and credibility to them that fictional events must work harder to achieve. We lived those events; Those events shaped our resulting society differently then if those events had never happened so, of course, we’re going to emotionally receptive to them.

“Unstoppable” seems to want the best of both worlds – Be respectful enough to the actual event to be more then a little accurate yet be fictional enough to add the necessary compelling human drama to add normal demographics to watch the film. Yet this blend of fiction and reality just doesn’t work; The fiction seems out of place with reality and the reality is too dull for the fiction to compensate for.

Being a top-tier film, the film has the look of a theatrical movie and there’s nothing to complain about in the usual categories of cinematography or the like. The movie “looks” like a movie and has all the bells and whistles one expects of a film being shown in a movie theater.

The problem with this movie is that, at it’s core, there just isn’t anything there – The two bickering co-workers take their train engine, chase down the runaway train and then board it. Yes, that’s a bit of an oversimplification but that’s the entire movie and that’s the problem… That’s the entire movie! The movie should have shifted the drama away from personal issues and shifted it towards the runaway train. The movie should have made a mystery out of how the train became a runaway train. The movie should have pitted the the track operator versus the corporate office. The movie, quite honestly, needed to do something… ANYTHING… to have spiced up this movie because most viewers are going to watch the film, watch the few times the train runs into something and think to themselves, “That’s it?” When the big money shot of your movie is a train turning a corner… Well, there are few people who can turn a train turning a corner into a harrowing experience. This time wasn’t one of them.

“Unstoppable” is a movie for train enthusiasts, fans of the movie stars and… I don’t know, people who have fetishes involving trains colliding into things? If you don’t fit into one of those three categories, you might want to pass on this movie. Take the bus instead.


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