Thursday, November 04, 2010


Train Men

In 1994 we have a pulsating chase movie set up with a speeding bus that cannot go below 50 miles per hour, hurtling through crowded streets and even performing a jump to cross a break in the roads, with plenty of cop cars in hot pursuit, and the good guys trying their mighty best to rescue all unwitting hostages and save the day. That was Jan de Bont's Speed, and until this day I haven't found an equal playing on that one same gimmick, until Tony Scott's Unstoppable.

Granted this is no gimmick of course, as it's inspired by the real life incident in 2001 known as the "Crazy Eights" where a freight train, through the carelessness of man, gets to roll off along its tracks carrying too many cars and too much hazardous material, posing a danger to residents in towns that lie in its inevitable path, with the brakes off and the power on. For dramatic cinema this culminates to the train pulverizing everything thrown in its path in attempts to make it stop, even at the expense of a derailment plan costing millions of dollars in direct and indirect damages to people, property and the environment. We get plenty of screen time demonstrating just how mean this monstrosity of a train is, especially when it growls and rumbles loudly through the sense-surround audio in a decent cinema hall.

The film wastes no time setting up the blame game on those responsible for the debacle, and Tony Scott does what Tony Scott does best, weaving the material in his usual break neck pace of quick edits and cuts in presenting a film that, like a train, is set on reaching its destination on time in unrelenting speed, which worked surprisingly well at keeping you at the edge of your seat as events unfold. It seems Tony hasn't had enough of playing with trains yet with his last film being a remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, and here he reunites with leading actor Denzel Washington (third feature in a row after Deja Vu and the aforementioned!) who decided that it's probably more fun at the helm of a locomotive engine as an engineer, than coordinating efforts from inside a control centre, a job that falls onto the lap of Rosario Dawson's Connie, who provides that tension filled perspective from within the confines of the control room being the liaison between her troops on the ground, and the board room bureaucracy.

Lending additional eye candy is Chris Pine, who drops his Captain Kirk swagger to play a unionized train conductor, who provides some dramatic gravitas in being the new kid on the block with plenty of baggage, both emotionally through his battle against a restraining order from his wife and kid, and professionally deemed as some kind of a white horse riding on his last name, coming in to replace a bunch of experienced veterans at their game. The story by Mark Bomback had time to dwell fleetingly between workers protected by a union and those who aren't and standing to lose a bunch of benefits when they get the pink slip, and the fight between youthful energy and what practical, technical experience can bring to the table. The film celebrates the strengths different parties in an organization can offer, although reserving scathing comments through the characterization of those sitting in cushy offices during a crisis, making all the arrogantly wrong decisions because they can, and consciously making a choice not to listen to those they deem insignificant down the corporate ladder, preferring to resort to threats.

Outside of those moments is where all the action is, albeit there would be some if watching in a hall not equipped with proper sound, may think there's nothing interesting in watching a bunch of guys chase a runaway train. Truth is you'd probably get a kick out of the authenticity of the film, especially with the utilization of industry lingo that raises that sense of reality up a notch, putting you in the thick of the action as it unfolds. With the narrative also getting peppered by television newsreel presentations, it provides the feeling that you're witnessing everything live. If you're looking for a film that grabs you by the collar and never lets up from the get go, despite its predictability at times and how invulnerable you know the leads are, then this is the film for you, and it's difficult not to root anyone on in this Tony Scott film since you know what's at stake, the death defying stunts and to desire a favourable outcome. What works is that it's never about emerging as heroes, but the ability to harness one's skills and coming from wanting to do the right thing, despite the odds.

Highly recommended, and I'll include this into my shortlist for one of the best, and a definite high adrenaline pumper amongst my favourites of the year. All aboard!

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