Throughout Hollywood’s history there have always been director-actor combos that deliver the goods in their respective genres as a tag team; Carpenter and Russell, Depp and Burton and so on. On an action level, you had the two Brit brothers competing for the best collaboration title with each of their favourites; Ridley Scott with Russell Crowe, and Tony Scott with Denzel Washington. It would have been nice to say that the latter combination produced the perfect send off for the late Tony Scott. Sadly, Unstoppable is nothing more than a below-average, clichéd-riddled ‘true story’ – he really deserved better.
Its plot begins with rookie train conductor Will (Chris Pine), going through family issues , being paired with grumpy old hat Frank (Denzel Washington) when coincidentally on the same morning two inept colleagues accidentally let loose an unmanned train. As it picks up speed, it hurtles towards impending disaster on the town of Stanton, Pennsylvania. Will and Frank have to put aside whatever issues they originally have with each other in order to stop the runaway train from causing serious damage.
It has to be said that there’s enough legitimate goings on to keep Unstoppable’s claim up as a true story, but the real-life incident was so brief (the runaway train is eventually stopped) that before the film even begins you are left to wonder how this has been tenuously stretched out into 100mins. One with a sense of Déjà vu too.
With everything and everyone going through the motions, we can simply tick off the amount of stereotypical points presented to us: young upstart paired with veteran and not initially getting on? Check. Corporate guys aggressively dismissing the event except one lowly staff member who believes? Check. Upstart and veteran eventually bonding and disobeying orders? Check. One or both injured yet still achieving the impossible to save the day? Check.
Then there are the parts which are palm-slap to the forehead moments , such as supposedly old-man Washington climbing on top of the ‘speeding’ train, and a school trip arriving to see the control room at work exactly at the point when the staff realise the train is out-of-control.
Because of all these derivative elements, there’s a feeling that this is masquerading as a project for Washington and Scott to remind us every few years that they can still come up with something new and exciting while sticking to the same formula. It’s only Chris Pine who shows any real enthusiasm, most likely happy to be doing something outside of the Star Trek franchise. But he could never have stopped the film inevitably running its course the second the problematic train is unleashed.
There’s trademark Scott imbedded here, but you’re better off remembering him through his substantially better 90’s/early-00’s films because with this being more often than not unwatchable, Unstoppable is strictly for fans of him, Washington, or Pine.
Trivia: This is the fifth (and last) time Tony Scott and Denzel Washington have worked together after Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Déjà vu and The Taking of Pelham 123.