Unstoppable (2010)

In tribute to the late Tony Scott, perhaps one of my favourite filmmakers, and normally a distinctly underrated one, 100 Films’s 600th feature review is of his final film…

2012 #17
Tony Scott | 94 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

UnstoppableTony Scott teams up with Denzel Washington for the fifth time to tell the (kinda) true story of a runaway train with the potential to cause massive destruction.

One of the first questions provoked by any ‘true story’ movie is, “how truthful is it?” And the appropriate answer is, “does it matter?” The main thing here is the same as in most of Scott’s movies: a good ride. As an action-thriller take on real-life, naturally much of what occurs has been fabricated for the movies — generally, the more exciting bits. It’s “inspired by” a real incident from 2001, not a factual re-telling of it. And as it’s a movie not a documentary, that’s fine.

Scott certainly knows how to direct some action. Here he reins in the crazy editing and grading effects of Man on Fire and Domino, but keeps a tense, restless roving camera. The attempts to stop the train are suitably nail-biting and exciting in equal measure. It’s still got that modern, digital intermediate, genre-based colour wash going on though: its a thriller, so of course all the photography is spun from ‘natural’ towards either ‘steely blue’ or ‘metallic green’ depending on location.

For all the excitement, and a brief running time of just over an hour and a half, it could do with being a bit quicker at the start. The time spent establishing character helps our emotional investment later, but even just five minutes trimmed from the fairly sedate first half-hour would help matters. It’s not as if it’s an actors’ film either, though the three leads sell their characters with ease. Chris Pine and Washington seem to have a chemistry that works, even if their roles — the know-it-all young hothead and the experienced about-to-retire old-timer — Stopping the unstoppableare as stock as they come. Also look out for Kevin Dunn playing the kind of role (condescending middle-management ‘bad guy’) he always plays.

Nor is it a film with a message, although mention of redundancies coupled with the imagery of an uncontrollable runaway train means there’s something to be read in there about the state of the economy.

Although the Rotten Tomatoes summary describes it as “Tony Scott’s best movie in years”, that might not be saying much coming off the back of critical flops like Domino, Deja Vu and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. It’s not his best work, of that I think we can be certain, but it shows a director still capable of crafting a compelling story that delivers thrills alongside solid if familiar characters, and feels cutting-edge without resorting to tired shakeycam confusion.

4 out of 5

Ridley Scott may get all the awards and honours, because, as Tony once described them, he is “classical” while Tony is “rock and roll”; but for my money the younger Scott brother’s influence on movies will be just as sorely missed. I think Ron Howard put it best: “No more Tony Scott movies. Tragic day.”

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