Why does this movie feel so original? The concept of the runaway train is an old one, indeed it used to be a genuine concern, but it has been relegated to the leagues of theme park attractions. In Unstoppable the threat seems very real, and it is a threat that comes directly from something that has, through time, become synonymous with safety; quite literally on track. I don’t usually enjoy action thrillers, not intentionally out of snobbery, but because they tend to descend into implausibility and cut-out characters. While there is an element of cliché in Unstoppable, the fact that the entire scenario is concocted from a real evident lends a visceral credence to the proceedings.
Chris Pine and Denzel Washington (who reportedly refused to budge on his $20 million dollar pay check when the film was in jeopardy) are on ass-kicking duty once again, but here the ass belongs to a locomotive which is described as ‘a missile the size of the Chrysler Building’. The role of yard manager is played, slightly incongruously, by Rosario Dawson. After showing so much promise it seems that Dawson is never going to be the leading lady that she once threatened to be. All the rest of the cast blur into insignificance as only three characters in Unstoppable count for anything: Pine’s home wrecker, Washington’s retiree and 777, this movies Jaws.
The reason why the film is so satisfying, in addition to its plausibility, is the way in which Tony Scott utilises realistic media reports. Anyone who’s ever seen a breaking news story progressing live will recognise the hysteria and constant development that is shown through news snippets, and these are excellently juxtaposed with the events unfolding aboard the train. By the end the real story of the runaway locomotive has given way to slightly unrealistic acts of death defying heroism, but at the heart of this story is something that does justice both to the real event and to the conventions of an action thriller.
A rare treat. If you’re looking for an action movie where the action isn’t superfluous or unjustifiable, then this is the movie for you. A thinking man’s runaway train movie.