Inspired by actual events, Tony Scott’s Unstoppable is a white-knuckle ride almost from the offset. There are, of course, the inevitable Hollywood clichés, but for the most part the movie is thrilling entertainment.
After an engineer’s error, an unmanned freight train speeds toward densely populated areas in Pennsylvania. As the rail company scramble to prevent widespread damage, a veteran engineer and a rookie conductor race against time to try and stop the train…
Unstoppable effectively builds pace following some necessary expository scenes. Giving the film its heart is the background of the two engineers. Their interactions with their families is borderline schmaltz, but understandable given the precariousness of the situation. Elsewhere, Hollywood conventions dictate that the train of schoolchildren is never in any real danger; it is hard to imagine they would be killed off so mercilessly.
These minor qualms aside, Unstoppable is a highly enjoyable thriller. The film excels in building anxiety, gripping viewers until its electrifying climax. The tension generated in Unstoppable is largely thanks to Scott’s directorial style and Chris Lebenzon and Robert Duffy’s superlative editing. Scott combines wide-angle shots with extreme close-ups, handheld footage with the television crew footage in a frenetic style that is at times dizzying, but wholly effective. The editing adds to this atmosphere, with a high cutting rate ensuring heightened anxiety.
Harry Gregson-Williams’ score combines well with the visuals, perfectly setting the tone. The colours are muted, and shots of the rail track and equipment give the film a gritty effect. This contrasts strikingly with the polished television footage from Fox, who incidentally produced the film. The onscreen captions that inform of the locations drive home the proximity of the danger. For the majority of viewers who will be unfamiliar with the geography, it is a useful tool in gauging the peril. Mark Bomback’s script allows for technical talk without losing the audience. There are a few cracks, but the intention is clearly to thrill viewers rather than making them laugh.
Denzel Washington gives a good performance, as ever, as veteran engineer Frank. He portrays the character as levelheaded and cool despite the immense pressure. As Will, Chris Pine makes a convincing rookie. Rosario Dawson meanwhile exudes a feisty attitude as Connie. Lew Temple brings some lightness as Ned, particularly at the very end of the film.
Unstoppable is an exciting film that is made all the more surprising by the fact that it is based on true events. For those wishing to partake in a 98-minute thrill ride – all aboard.