Unstoppable is the latest release from veteran Hollywood director Tony Scott who is responsible for the classic action films Top Gun, Crimson Tide and True Romance. Mr Scott also had a rather lean spell in the past decade where he put out the decidely average Domino, Man On Fire and Deja Vu.
Scott has certain strengths which he plays to – he can showcase spectacles very well and he has a love affair with retelling the story of an everyman overcoming obstacles. He picked up some rather annoying habits in recent years including an editor who didn’t want a single shot to last more than 3 seconds and a post production team that loved sepia-tints, zooms, and plenty of artifical scratches to add ‘grit’.
Happily, Unstoppable is one of Scott’s better efforts. Based on true events, this tale of two trainworkers who bravely put their lives on the line to stop a speeding, unmanned freight train is an excellent thriller. The film moves along at a cracking pace throwing one obstacle after another in front of the train and the action sequences are intensely visceral.
The actual chain of events that set in motion the runaway train however are breathtakingly stupid. It’s perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come that Unstoppable opens with a shot of an apartment where a character is watching Family Guy‘s Peter Griffin on the television.
An engineer named Dewey is asked to move a freight locomotive off some tracks to clear a path for an incoming passenger train full of school children. Firstly, his friend notices that the airbrakes are disconnected but is too lazy or indifferent to do anything about it. Dewey then notices that a rail switch up ahead is misaligned but he cannot be bothered to stop the train. Instead he hops out, leaving the train unmanned (!) and tries to run ahead to flick the switch. Because he is a giant fat retard, Dewey not only fails to reboard the train but he also forgets to turn off the throttle. When he alerts his yardmaster Connie, she contacts a welder by the name of Ned to intercept the train and stop it but he doesn’t get there in time because he is actually offsite at a cafe flirting with a waitress. Jesus Christ.
If Tony Scott’s Top Gun captured the mood and essense of a bulletproof America in the Eighties with its macho swagger and invincible economy, Unstoppable is perhaps an equally fitting snapshot of modern America with its declining industry and economic recession. Although the film is celebrating a real life crisis aversion, there is a undercurrent of depression throughout.
Consider one of the film’s heroes, Frank Barnes, who has two daughters who have to work at a Hooters bar to support their education. The rail company Frank works for is aggresively profit driven and is firing all the mature age workers, short-changing them on their pension and replacing them with young inexperienced labourers who are cheaper to hire. Despite his desperate situation, when we first meet Frank, he voices his disdain for unions, the very people who could have supported him in his predicament. Frank appears to have the same sort of logic as a Tea Party activist.
It doesn’t get much better when we learn about Will, the film’s other protagonist. Will is headstrong, has poor attention to detail and probably has one of Hollywood’s least sympathetic sob stories for how he became seperated from his wife and daughter. Will explains that his wife was texting a friend that he believed she was having an affair with. So he drove over to the person’s house and threatened to kill them with a loaded gun. When Frank hears the story, he shrugs and says Will should make things up to his estranged wife by giving her a phone call to smooth things over. I couldn’t believe it. Frank seems to treat the incident as though Will forgot his anniversary or something. Is threatening to kill someone with a gun really not that big of a deal in Pennsylvania? Shouldn’t Will be in jail?
Regardless of their questionable ideals, Frank and Will are by far the film’s brightest hopes. The rest of the people involved in stopping the train are idiots who wilfully ignore the advice of experts and perform incredible acts of stupidity such as shooting assault rifles at the train’s fuel switch, momentarily forgetting that the fuel tank is located in the same area. You get the feeling that Will and Frank stop the train inspite of the assistance offered from local authorities.
At the end of the day, theres still no denying that Unstoppable is an excellent action film at heart. In fact, it’s possible that Tony Scott may have hit upon a goldmine of material for future films. Idiots Who Nearly Cause Catastrophic Accidents and the People Who Saved The Day. I wonder if he read the news story recently about the air traffic controller who slept on the job?