Tony Scott is one of those directors where you have no idea if he’s going to deliver a modestly successful studio film, or something out of its mind. Top Gun, Enemy of the State, Spy Game suggests a director who knows how to deliver what studios want. Butt then sometimes, like with True Romance, or Domino he takes a chance and goes for broke in ways that either work great or are nigh unwatchable. Then you have a film like Man on Fire that’s both a studio picture, and a borderline experimental movie. Unstoppable is Scott in studio picture mode, but it’s unmistakably a Tony Scott film. Such is his filmmaking. Denzel Washington stars as Frank, an older guy in the train business who’s been recently partnered with Will (Chris Pine), a rookie with the right last name to get ahead. They start a gruff working relationship, but they’re forced to get along and do their jobs when they have to stop a runaway train with the destructive force of a missile the size of the Chrysler building… or at least that’s what controller Connie (Rosario Dawson) says. My review of the Blu-ray of Unstoppable follows after jump.
So the film beings in the easy confines of the conflict that comes when the new and brash works with the old and cantankerous. Washington’s Frank against Pine’s Will. That gets the film going as it intercuts their first day together with comic relief Dewey (Ethan Suplee) fumbling a transfer in front of Gilleece (T.J. Miller). This though leads to the unstoppable train, and that train’s got things in it that could explode! Ned Oldham (Lew Temple) and Connie (Dawson) try to stop it, but they’re not in the right place to do so. The film is then divided between Frank and Will on their train, and the control room where people like inspector Werner (Kevin Corrigan) comes in and says that he knows how terrible the situation is, while there’s also news crew capturing every moment.
Things get worse and more public, and so Oscar Galvin (Kevin Dunn) – as a railway CEO – tries to minimize the damage, but it’s getting to be an all or nothing tragedy. Will and Frank are moving bullshit, and they become the only train available to stop it, and the only people nearby with enough experience to shut it down. So Frank – who’s got two daughters working at Hooters and don’t respect him, while being two and a half weeks away from retirement - and Will – who’s got a wife who filed a restraining order against him – have to do the dirty work, while also working through their personal baggage.
The second act of the film is filled with news reports covering what’s going on, which seems partly a response to the film’s stripped down narrative – even at 98 minutes, the film feels slightly padded. This is a very bare-bones action thriller, and what I like about it is that it doesn’t fuck around. The film knows what it is, and doesn’t try and draw that out. And when Kevin Dun say something along the lines of “You’re a guy with two and half weeks on the job, and you’re putting in for a suicide mission?” you know exactly what you’re in for. It’s not a great film, but it does draw tension from the idea that either lead could die a heroic death, which keeps the stakes high enough when it comes to a train – in a track – going a high speeds. The film is done mostly with practical effects, which adds to the enjoyment – though it does rely on the train crashing through things every couple minutes to remind you how dangerous things are. This is Tony Scott in studio mode, and he does it with enough panache to make it worth watching – even if every scene looks like it was shot with a hipstamatic lens. It’s an engaging B-movie, no more or less.
Fox Blu-ray comes with the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and DTS-HD surround. The mix and visual are top notch, and this I the sort of film that’s good to show fathers and sons. The film also comes with a digital copy. Extras include a commentary by Tony Scott, and an audio track called “Taking the Story: Unstoppable – Script Development” that walks through the writing process. This is followed by “The Fastest Train: Unleashing Unstoppable” (30 min.), which is a talking-heads walking-through of the production with the main cast and crew. This is followed by “Unstoppable: Anatomy of a Scene” (10 min.) which covers one of the film’s train derailment. Such is followed by “Hanging off the Train: Stunt Work” (14 min.), and “On the Rails with the Director and Cast” (13 min.), which offers an on-set interview with Scott, Pine, Dawson and Washington. Ending the supplements are the film’s theatrical trailer and bonus trailers.