Friday, 19 December 2014

Free Action Movie Week: Unstoppable

It's the fifth and final day of Free Action Movie Week and I've saved the best for last. When I made the announcement that I was doing one film a day and presented a list of choices Unstoppable was by far the most popular choice. Literally every single person who voted said they wanted me to do this movie, so naturally it seemed the logical place to end on. I actually had seen this movie before for my action movie class. We watched it the first week while discussing "train chase" films of the silent era that helped to shape the modern car chase. I even referred to it in my article Trains, Trains, and Automobiles, inspired by that very lecture and centering around the role trains play in action movies. Looking back on it now, I can certainly see a lot of the concepts we discussed over the course of that lecture. The premise itself is reminiscent of the old train-chase movies like The Lonedale Operator or The General, but there are other elements mixed in.

Loosely based on an actual incident, Unstoppable is essentially one long train chase film, sort of like a more modern version of The General. Will Colson (Chris Pine) is a young man experiencing his first day working at the railyard, and is assigned veteran Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington, who also appeared in Deja Vu this week) as a partner. Meanwhile an idiot out in the yard is ordered to move a train but botches up the process. The train, which turns out to be carrying hazardous materials that could result in massive casualties if exposed to an urban environment, is hurtling down the mainline at increasing speed with no driver. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) takes charge of the situation, keeping track of the train's current route while also trying to work out a solution to the problem and dealing with the bureaucracy of her superiors.

The character of Will Colson definitely has some elements of the "wise-guy" hero popularized by Die Hard and its many imitators during the 90's. Much like John McClane, he has the generally lighthearted attitude toward his situation, which is even brought up when Denzel Washington specifically asks him for "no comedy" while faced with a dangerous task. He is also an everyman who gets caught up in extraordinary circumstances but also proves to be the one person who can take care of the situation. Further Die Hard parallels include the use of the radios, with his bantering against his boss Galvin (Kevin Dunn) somewhat reminiscent of McClane's exchanges with Hans Gruber. One could also argue that his relationship to Connie parallels that of McClane's to Sgt. Powell.

There is also a bit of the vigilante aspect of action films of the 1970's. Nobody ever has to pull out a 44 magnum and start shooting criminals on sight, but the same sort of problems that kept Dirty Harry from catching Scorpio prevent the runaway train from being stopped. Namely there is the same bureaucracy. The authorities, in this case Galvin and his immediate executives, are treated as inefficient and incapable of resolving the situation. Like Dirty Harry, Connie has to break the rules to get the job done, violating direct orders at the risk of being fired. The actual solution that is presented comes from two railway workers finding an opportunity and taking it, also disregarding their superiors' orders.

In general, Unstoppable is an exciting movie that moves at a super-fast pace. I barely noticed when I was already halfway through. There is definitely a lot of exciting action to be found, if of a different sort. We don't see people pulling out guns quite like you would in any of the other films I've covered this week, but there is plenty of the same tension and suspense. Once the train gets moving the film just gets faster and faster, not giving you much time to breathe. It creates a sense of just how intense the situation is and how urgent it is for the train to be stopped.

The acting is also very good on everyone's part. Chris Pine and Denzel Washington have some great chemistry together, making their scenes feel like one of those old buddy films from the 80's. I also liked Rosario Dawson as Connie, as she does a perfect job in delivering the right sort of emotional drive, conveying that persistent determination to see the train stopped even if it costs her job. Her interactions with Pine and Washington also helped add a lot of depth to their characters. The supporting cast was good as well but really the film centers around these three.

Unstoppable is a great movie. I can't say much about how closely it follows the true events it claims to be based on, but it is still a compelling piece of film that is guaranteed to leave you on the edge of your seat. The action is literally non-stop, and keeps building up to an exciting climax. It's a lot of fun and a great experience for anyone looking for a fun action movie.

I would once again like to thank everyone who voted for this event. This has been a lot of help since I am positive that if I hadn't thought of doing this I would have spent too much time trying to decide what films I wanted to see this week instead of actually watching anything. Since this has been such as success I'm open to revisiting this kind of thing in the future with other themes, maybe during the summer.


  1. Glad you enjoyed this. I had lots of fun with this one, as well. I figured Dawson's character was strong enough to suit you. At least that played into why I voted for it.

    Btw, The General is one of the most amazing movies ever made. It's all sorts of fun to watch and Keaton had to do most things, if not everything, in one take. I'll forever be in awe of that film.

    1. I had a feeling that played into some of your choices.