Action

Retro Streaming – #2 Unstoppable (2010)

Synopsis

Grizzled old train driver Frank (Washington) and cocky young buck conductor Will (Pine) must overcome their differences to stop an unmanned train carrying toxic chemicals from ploughing into a local town killing 100,000 residents.

My Take

This is a film about trains, which is appropriate because if this movie were a form of transport it would be a train. Big, expensive, loud, only able to move in one direction from A to B and for all it’s weight and speed never able to conjure a sense of adrenaline or fear.

Unstoppable

This movie is dumb. Not in a Top Gun or Face Off entertaining turn your brain off dumb. Rather, look at your phone, check your Facebook, wonder if you left the oven on, shout at the TV “WHY ARE YOU TAKING YOUR CHILD TO THE POTENTIAL SITE OF AN ENOURMOUS HUMAN AND ECOLOGICAL ACCIDENT?!?!?!” (more on that later) dumb.

When putting this together you get a sense the writer/production team must have put all of the possible movie tropes and cliches on a dartboard and then thrown darts at them in order to decide which ones they were going to use:

  • Grizzled guy near retirement with estranged family and something to prove? Check;
  • Young cocky upstart with estranged family and something to prove? Check;
  • Fat slob and his slacker buddy setting things in motion through being lazy? Check;
  • Train full of school kids on collision course with another train? Check;
  • Wisecracking slightly unhinged guy with vast technical knowledge but no social skills? Check;
  • Hot middle management who is trying to save the day safely but wants to support the crazy tactics of the main protagonists who have nothing to lose? Check;
  • Douchebag Board of Directors who only care about their profits? Check

I mean come on guys. At least throw some originality in there if only to throw me a curve ball and keep me awake.

The problem with an action movie set on a train is, as a setting for high octane action sequences, it ranks up there with the cruise liner in Speed 2. It’s difficult to create tension when the train is doing 45mph and could be chased down by your grandmother in a Prius.

Sure, it is a big hunk of metal travelling relatively fast at another chunk of metal also going relatively fast, but it is also stuck on track which means all of the obstacles need to come to it rather than it to them. And some of them are just dumb with a big fat D. Example? When trying to de-rail the train they put some de-railer things (I am not a train person evidently) on the tracks. Fine, that would make sense. But all around the site where they are trying to de-rail the train are Police Officers, Paramedics, news reporters and cameramen, members of the public, the World and His Dog. WTF?!? Even in stupid action world you can’t tell me there wouldn’t be a huge freakin’ cordon meaning no-one could get within 500 yards of a train carrying toxic chemicals that they are trying to PURPOSEFULLY CRASH!! So why are they there you ask? So that when it doesn’t work and the train blows right through the de-railers they can explode and pepper the police cars parked RIGHT NEXT TO THE TRACKS with shrapnel. Really?!? What’s that sound? Oh yeah, that would be Mark Bomback’s pen scraping the bottom of the ideas barrel. Jeeeeez.

It’s never a good sign when you’re so unabsorbed by an action movie that you start questioning logic. For instance, Will, the young cocky upstart, is in the process of a bitter court battle for access to his kid. Why? Because he over-reacted to an innocuous phone call and then threatened a police officer friend with a gun. Yeah, not exactly a smart move dickbag. I think they are trying to develop a similar sense of good-guy-making-stupid-mistake as Nic Cage’s Cameron Poe in Con Air. Unfortunately you just end up thinking he is a bit of a dick and kind of hoping he accidentley falls of the train. But that’s a trope and that’s sort of acceptable. It was when the train they are on is hurtling towards a town at 70 miles an hour and not only has everyone turned out to witness and partake in what you can only assume is some mass suicide, but his wife turns up with their kid!! What mother takes their kid to watch their Father possibly die in a huge train crash that also kill thousands of people around them and cause untold ecological damage?!?!? That’s what I mean by dumb.

Now for two guys who are set up as two ends of the same piece of string, both strong manly men, doing manly work, estranged from their families and trying to reconcile they seem awfully keen to throw that all away. I get it, they are trying to be heroes so their families will think they are awesome but they make the decision to risk life and limb with no guarantees very easily. Why so happy to make the decision? Well it turns out Frank can’t be fired because he is being retired. Maybe if he saves the day they will reconsider. In essence making this the worlds most death defying pension negotiation. And Will? Well it appears he has to go along with it because otherwise he is going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way of getting home. At least that’s what I assume because there is no other rhyme or reason for his decision making process

The other problem is the title; Unstoppable. I don’t want to spoil anything but I am guessing you probably have a fair idea that everything turns out fine. Which means that somehow they must have stopped the train. Which means it wasn’t unstoppable. This probably wouldn’t have annoyed me if the rest of the film hadn’t annoyed me so much.

Perhaps most amazingly this was “inspired by real events”. So all the material was already there for them. Actual people with actual problems in actual peril. The film languished in production hell from 2004 with various directors attached and then dropping out. I can’t help but wonder if each had a change of heart once they had time to sit and realise how stupid the whole thing was.

Denzel Washington was a close and personal friend of Tony Scott’s and they made some great movies together, not least Man on Fire. So I assumed it must have been a favour from Washington to do this movie because I couldn’t see him agreeing to do this for anyone else. It turns out Washington and Scott both almost didn’t make it because neither would take pay cuts from their $20m and $9m fees. In fact Washington dropped out and only came back later when they offered him a package so lucrative he couldn’t turn it down. Alarm. Bells. Ringing. RUN AWAY DENZEL, DON’T DO IT!!! According to the trivia Washington recommended Scott read the script. I’d recommend it to if I thought I could get my buddy $9m for directing a film that barely stretched his directorial muscles.

All that said it didn’t do any of the cast’s careers any harm, although I wonder if it was anyone other than Tony Scott (with the exception of maybe Michael Bay) whether they would have gotten three actors as high profile as Washington, Pine and Dawson. They all picked up their paychecks and probably had a lot of fun making it. It also didn’t do too badly at the Box Office taking $170m off a $100m budget.

The last thing I want to say on this though is how sad it made me that this was Tony Scott’s final directorial effort before he took his own life 6 months ago. He was no auteur and he made films that entertained first and worried about everything else after. But in his field his films always felt a cut above the rest, injected with dark humour and characters with a sense of purpose and gravity. Never better demonstrated with what I think were his two finest efforts; True Romance and Man on Fire. It felt like he was slipping in his later life with Pelham 123 and then this. It’s a deep shame he no longer has the chance to make one more great film.

In conclusion this film left me feeling like I had been ripped off, an achievement considering I got it for free. If you have a spare 100 minutes and a craving for a Tony Scott picture then avoid this and go dig out True Romance.

Conclusion: 4/10

About

Running Time: 98 mins   Release Date: 24/11/2010

Tagline:  1 million tons of steel. 100,000 lives at stake. 100 minutes to impact

Director: Tony Scott – Also known for, amongst others; Top Gun, True Romance, Man on Fire, Spy Game, Enemy of the State and Crimson Tide. This was the last film before he committed suicide in August 2012.

Written By: Mark Bomback – Also known for Die Hard 4.0, Race To Witch Mountain, Total Recall. He has some impressive movies in pre-production including The Wolverine, 24 and the new Planet of the Apes. I hope he doesn’t mess any of those up because they are three prime franchises.

Key Cast: Chris Pine, Denzel Washington, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Surplee

Top TV Connections

1. Kevin Chapman (psycho mob boss Freddy Cork on Brotherhood) as engineer Bunny

2. Ethan Surplee (fat dumbass Randy on My Name is Earl) as fat dumbass Dewey

3. Lew Temple (hick prisoner Axel on Walking Dead) as wisecracking welder Ned

Quotables

  • Frank: This ain’t training. In training they just give you an F. Out here you get killed.
  • Frank: Married?
    Will: Yeah. Well, sort of. It’s a long story.
    Frank: We got a long day.
    Will: How about you, you married?
    Frank: Short story. Once.

Fun Facts

  • The film is inspired by the “Crazy Eights” unmanned train incident in 2001. The train, led by CSX Transportation SD40-2 #8888, left its Walbridge, Ohio, rail yard and began a 66-mile (106 km) journey through northwest Ohio with no one at the controls, after the engineer got out of the originally slow-moving train to correctly line a switch, mistakenly believing he had properly set the train’s dynamic braking system, just as his counterpart in the movie did. Two of the real train’s tank cars also contained thousands of gallons of molten phenol, similar to the fictional train in the film
  • Rosario Dawson is a real-life train aficionado who travels on trains all over the world wherever possible
  • Animal noises were used to make the 777 train sound more menacing (because nothing is more menacing than an angry donkey)

Due to my internet connection frying this week this was actually watched on DVD as part of my Love Film postal package. Back to streaming next week hopefully.

Dylan

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