In a careless moment while re-parking a long freight train, a lazy train driver (Ethan Suplee) allows loco 777 to get away, while under power. The runaway train, with carriages full of deadly and inflammable chemical, is hurtling towards a string of Pennsylvania towns - and another train being driven by veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and a young conductor just out of training, Will Colson (Chris Pine). As the emergency escalates and HQ tries to avert disaster, Frank and Will have to make a series of desperate decisions in an attempt to get the monster train under control before it smashes and explodes in one of the towns.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With a simple but powerful premise as the engine of this chase thriller, Tony Scott delivers a high tension escapist entertainment - without a villain. That's right; unlike Speed, where a crazed baddie sets up the booby trapped bus, the huge freight train that speeds towards potential disaster is the work of nothing more sinister than a careless engine driver (Ethan Suplee).
Human error is the villain and the film has a couple of those, making it an ideal training video for companies keen to instill a high quotient of quality control in their employees. Denzel Washington is suitably convincing as the veteran on the eve of forced early retirement. Chris Pine is excellent as the young rookie just out of training school who has to prove himself, with a hiccup in his marriage.
But these personal elements, while useful to give the characters dimension and context, are sidelined as the unmanned monster of a train heads towards a string of towns with its deadly, explosive chemical payload.
Scott and his editors Robert Duffy, Chris Lebenzon, make the most of the material, like a speeding freight train with a variety of threats in its path, including a trainload of children out to learn about safety on rails. They also make great use of news footage that adds intensity to the film's texture.
Roasario Dawson has the juicy role of handling the emergency in the central rail network control room. She has a hard headed boss, Galvin (Kevin Dunn) at HQ to deal with, whose solutions are either ineffective or worse. Washington and Pine are a good team and the dynamics of the nail biting story give theem room to be heroes without overdoing it.
Hard working cameras and huge sound design all add to the brawny and bellowing tone, with the machinery and steel wheels screeching, metal clanging and rails clattering. It's only at the end as your muscles relax that you realise how much cinematic voltage has been coursing through your body.
Review by Louise Keller:
Speeding along like the out of the control train in the story, Unstoppable grabs our attention and doesn't let us go for 98 nail-biting minutes of non-stop action and tension. Since The Taking of Pelham 123, director Tony Scott must have developed a passion for trains and he knows how to maximise every aspect of shooting them. Based on true events, the runaway train is the film's ominous main character and Scott's direction has the utmost impact with large scale cinematography from all angles and a sensational soundscape, offering Denzel Washington and Chris Pine a solid platform from which to shine as the heroic engineer and conductor.
Even before the unmanned runaway train is compared to a missile the size of the Chrysler building, there's tension on the tracks. Railroad politics rears its ugly head as rookie conductor Will Colson (Pine) is paired with experienced veteran Frank Barnes (Washington) who is none too pleased about the prospect. Will's appointment is said to be due to his well-placed family, whereas Frank has honed his expertise over a lifetime and now faces forced retirement. Both men have come to work that day with their own personal problems: Will is having marriage troubles while Frank has communication issues with his teenage daughters. It simply takes one small error of judgment by a yard worker to begin an escalation of a crisis with catastrophic consequences of potential danger, cost and loss of life.
Washington is as good as ever as the man who believes if you do something, you do it right and Pine is excellent as the young man struggling to find his beliefs. Rosario Dawson is also perfect as Connie, the pragmatic railroad contact point and communicator.
Suddenly Frank and Will are in the thick of it, with the out of control train hurtling towards them and critical deadlines to meet. There are vital judgment calls and as the train negotiates every bend, there is yet another crisis to solve and another decision to make. There's the deadly threat of derailment at the hairpin curve near heavily populated Stanton, where fuel is stored as the speeding train tears along to the jarring screech of metal on metal and fiery sparks emulate spitting embers on a bonfire. Helicopters hover above, the camera pulls us below the train, split scenes interject with flash news coverage - all adding to the tension. With their sizeable mass, speed and power, there's a certain gravitas about trains and Scott keeps our attention ingeniously and inventively throughout this genuinely exciting armchair thriller.
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CAST: Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Chapman
PRODUCER: Tony Scott, Eric McLeod, Mimi Rogers, Alex Young
DIRECTOR: Tony Scott
SCRIPT: Mark Bomback
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Seresin
EDITOR: Robert Duffy, Chris Lebenzon
MUSIC: Harry Gregson-Williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Seagers
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 6, 2011