What I’m Watching: Unstoppable


They really missed the opportunity to use “Crazy Train” as part of the soundtrack for this movie, which I think is somewhat remiss, though I’m now in favor of that song being put to (entirely reasonable) use as the campaign theme song for Michelle Bachmann’s presidential campaign.

Anyway.  Two guys.  Two trains, one of them a half-mile long and unmanned (if those guys had split forces and been one on each train…no movie), loaded with gnarly chemicals, and headed for a population center in southern Pennsylvania.  Apparently, this is based on an event that happened in 2001 in Ohio.  Still, even though this movie is an example of art imitating life and more than two people appear on screen throughout the entirety of the movie, it’s really about two guys (Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) who are forced together, dislike each other intensely, and eventually forge the bonds of unbreakable friendship in the face of life-threatening adversity.

‘s OK.  Sort of.  But not really.

The characters were fairly uniformly one-dimensional, though Denzel did his best with the flat script and flaccid directing.  I felt bad for Rosario Dawson, who played the yard boss responsible for coordinating the recovery efforts.  She was in a good deal of the movie but is sorely underused, and seemingly only said things like, “Get Galvin on the phone!” or “What’s its speed now?  Oh, no!  It’s closing in on Stanton!”  I expected more from Tony Scott, who directed “Top Gun” and “True Romance” and whether you care for those movies or not, they had great pace and were able to draw you in.  Of course, Tony Scott also directed Denzel Washington in the remake of “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” (not linking to it, you’re welcome), generally chewed up by the critics, and this only makes me wonder if Denzel owes him money.  The storyline was riddled with contrived pseudo-made-you-jump moments involving characters the viewer doesn’t get a chance to know or really care about, and if you go to a movie for lots of boom-clang-rat-a-tat, then it’s the movie for you.  Otherwise, all the glass breaking and derailers exploding and things flying up at Chris Pine when he’s trying to couple the cars is the cinematic equivalent of sound and fury signifying nothing.

This may sound weird, but the thing I really enjoyed about this movie?  Is how well it portrayed the weird, sort of leaden quality possessed by Pennsylvania’s industrial towns.  The train blows through all these small PA rail towns, and—I noticed this when I moved here—even after a good rain, there’s still a dinginess that clings to the buildings, as though after years of exposure to train smoke (or, depending on your region, coal dust, or factory exhaust) these towns have finally integrated the grime into their atmospheres.  You see a little of that in the beginning of “Kingpin”, too, but the scenery in that movie is quickly eclipsed by the horrific landlady.  If you’ve seen it…you know what I mean.   And I digress.

Watch this movie if:

  • You’re a trainspotter.
  • You like clangy-smashy-boomy movies.
  • You like watching underutilized actors.
  • You want to feast your eyes upon Chris Pine/Denzel Washington/Rosario Dawson.
  • You like looking at gritty little towns.
  • Your alternative activity options are all illegal.  (New slogan for the movie: “Watch “Unstoppable”!  It beats breaking the law.”)

Skip this movie if:

  • Train talk bores you.
  • You find noisy movies jarring.
  • You demand three-dimensional characters, salient plot movement, and decent directing.
  • Nickelodeon is running a “The Nanny” marathon.
  • You’ve been meaning to find the time to bust out the home-candling kit and take care of that nasty earwax buildup.

I just watched the trailer again…it’s pretty exciting, and you pretty much see everything you need to know in 2:28.  Enjoy!

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