This review is for entertainment purposes only. If you want to get in the spirit of the movie I’m reviewing,
print this out and read it while sitting on a roller coaster. After you’ve just spun in circles for an hour.
All A Bored
I’m not sure when Tony Scott went crazy. His earlier films like Revenge, True Romance, etc. were masterfully shot and managed to keep the tension high while telling a compelling story. But his last few films – Taking of Pelham 123, Domino – have been so woefully bad that it appears as if Scott abandoned all the things he learned and decided to try and make the camera and editing the most exciting parts of the story instead of the actual story itself. Pelham was one of the worst movies of last year. Will this year’s Tony Scott train movie Unstoppable be a better film or a total train wreck? Was that a trick question?
Unstoppable is based on true events I’ve never heard of about train engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and conductor Will Colson’s (Chris Pine) brave attempt at trying to stop the unstoppable – a runaway train going speeds in excess of 70mph carrying toxic chemicals that are sure to explode from derailment once the train enters a town that has a turn that is only able to handle speeds under 30 mph. Sounds exciting right? It would be if you were able to follow the action without having a seizure.
Joining the frantic action is Rosario Dawson, the actress I’ve always said a studio hires when Eva Mendes isn’t available and they don’t want to put up with Michelle Rodriguez’s bullshit, who plays Connie Hooper, the Yardmaster who keeps Frank and Will updated on what’s going on with the train. She’s assisted by welder Ned Oldham (Lew Temple) who drives his truck around trying to catch up to the train so he can report to Connie on its progress. Since Unstoppable doesn’t really have a living protagonist, writer Mark Bomback decides that Hooper’s boss Calvin (Kevin Dunn) would play the stereotypical role of the “boss who never listens to his employees,” making decisions counter-intuitive to his employee’s suggestions. But this part of the story isn’t as compelling as the one being told on the track. I’m kidding. None of it is compelling.
Since we can’t watch a train for ninety minutes roll down the track with no dialogue besides, “WHAT WILL WE DO!” and “DAT TRAIN BE OUTTA CONTROL!,” character development comes in the form of Frank’s disconnect with his two daughters who both work at Hooters (they got some nice cabooses, if you know what I’m sayin’. Wink, wink) and Will’s failing marriage. The two men, of course, have differences at first but find that the only way they can stop the train is by working together. Ya, it’s afterschool special writing at its finest, but this meat and mashed potatoes movie is more about the action than its cardboard cutout characters.
Speaking of action, Unstoppable is jam packed with heart pounding moments! Including:
- Shots of the train going fast.
- Scene with default car/truck/cow/whatever getting demolished on the track as the train blows by the railroad crossing.
- More shots of the train going even faster.
- Military personnel unsuccessfully trying to land on the train.
- Shots of cute girls in Hooters outfits.
- Scenes of Denzel showing us his veteran true grit.
- Shots of a truck driving really fast trying to catch up to the train.
- More helicopters.
- Cop car flies into the air and explodes. For absolutely no reason.
- One more helicopter.
- Cops stopping traffic at various crossings. (Guns drawn as they kneel behind their car doors waiting for the train to arrive to be in the Director’s Cut.)
- Chris Pine shirtless at the beginning of the movie.
- Railyard workers staring at the TV.
- Train on train coupling action. Warning: Not for children!
- People looking at lighted boards and maps.
Despite such mind blowing scenes, it’s hard to watch any of it because Tony Scott decided to drink a keg of Red Bull and Jolt Cola before each day of shooting. Seriously, Unstoppable will give you a splitting headache by the time it’s over. I thought Michael Bay was the king of the ‘sweeping camera’ shot but somehow Tony Scott ups that technique by using it one time almost every thirty seconds. He also abuses the ‘Zoom’ button like it’s a Russian mailorder bride, slamming on it repeatedly. Every single scene in Unstoppable has either a swoop, a zoom in, a zoom out, an overhead shot, or the camera shakes for no goddamn reason. Here’s a breakdown of what Scott wants from his DOP:
Sweep/zoom in/sweep/sweep/overhead shot/zoom out/overhead shot/sweep/360 degree pan/camera up-NO!-camera down/sweep/zoom in/shakeshakeshakeshake/blow-up cop car.
I’m not kidding. During a scene with Washington and Pine, Scott first sweeps the camera around Washington in the cab, then zooms in on Pine talking and quickly cuts to a zoomed out shot of Washington talking back. This goes on for the entire movie. It’s amazing how over the top the editing and camera work is. It doesn’t enhance the action, it kills it. It’s almost as if Scott told his camera crew to pick up the cameras, hit record, and then just throw them in random directions. Then once he got into the editing bay, he kicked the editor out, took off his shoes and proceeded to stomp on the Avid keyboard while downing a bottle of wine and yelling like a Cherokee trying to summon rain clouds.
Unstoppable is an action movie trying to also be a drama, but it doesn’t succeed on either level. Wooden dialogue and uninteresting relationships are only part of the problem in a script that’s trying too hard to make things more interesting than they actually are. I suppose it would be tolerable if Scott would take a step back and let us adjust our eyes to the screen before deciding to sweep the camera one more time, but that never happens.
Washington and Pine are fine in their roles, but Washington almost seems bored and you don’t really care about the relationship between the two. I almost feel bad for Washington because he’s an actor that should be playing more interesting characters than someone who simply talks into a radio and worries about missing his daughter’s birthday. Pine just stares straight ahead and tries not to blink. Ever. Get back in the Captain’s chair, Chris. You need more science fiction films on your resume before you’re asked to speak at Star Trek conventions in ten years.
This is a popcorn movie with no substance, horrible direction and editing, and uninspired thrills that missed its late summer stop only to derail in the Fall movie season. I hear Scott is working on the last installment of his “Train Trilogy” called Shinkansen Swords about a Tokyo bullet train that travels back in time and faces off against ninjas. Save your money on this ride folks. Unless you have a hunger for migraines, it’s best to just sit this one out and wait for it to hit DVD. At least this way you’ll be able to pause the movie while you go to the bathroom and throw up from the nauseating camera work. Still, I think Unstoppable could have worked had Thomas the Train been able to work out those contract issues. Missed opportunity, Fox. Missed opportunity.
To view the trailer for Unstoppable, click here.
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