Unstoppable

Unstoppable is, interestingly, a lot like the runaway train that the film centers on. It feels like it gets a slow start, but as it picks up speed, you can’t tear your eyes away from some great pacing and acting and by the end you are clutching your armrest.

It’s a mighty fine entertainment from Tony Scott.

Here’s a trailer:

Here are the deets:

Released November 12, 2010

Written by Mark Bomback (based on true events)

Directed by Tony Scott

Starring Rosario Dawson, Jessy Schram, Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Kevin Corrigan, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn, and Lew Temple. Oh, and a really big train.

Rated PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of Unstoppable is simple: a train hauling tons of toxic chemicals gets away from its rather careless conductor and picks up speed as it heads toward some seriously populated areas. It’s going to kill a lot of people unless two men can find their courage and stop the thing while bucking the orders of the train company’s head honcho and working for a no-nonsense supervisor.

The film opens with Will (Pine) starting his day. He apparently is on the outs with his lady, Darcy (Schram) and is in something of a funk. He appears to be related to a bigwig in the train company for which he works as a conductor. He is slated to work with rail veteran Frank (Washington), who has two grown daughters and is pretty philosophical about life. Will and Frank’s day goes just fine until they find out that they’re on a crash course with an out of control train.

Dewey (Suplee) is the nimrod that allowed the train to get out of control. Connie (Dawson) is the tough, no-nonsense, but desperate supervisor who has to figure out how to keep the train from killing people. She has to deal with railroad execs who are far more focused on the dollar (of course) than on practicalities and people. She also has to try to keep Will and Frank alive as they decide to do more than just avoid the train.

Solutions are come up with, tried out, discarded, and all leads to Frank and Will being faced with a decision that will test their grit and courage. The final twenty minutes are some of the tensest moments you will experience in a movie.

Critique

Tony Scott discards some of his usual tools, such as overly dramatic lighting and at times too-frenetic camera work. He still uses interesting angles and helps the viewer get into the movie from fascinating perspectives, but none of these are done for the purpose of art. They are done to enhance the tension of the film.

Unstoppable works so well because the two main characters are written with an eye to the tension that exists between a rookie and a veteran, where the rookie is somewhat entitled and too big for his britches. It also works well because it does not flag in its pace, it focuses on what people are doing about this train and the personal sacrifices involved, and it explores courage very effectively.

Despite some predictability and a few overly dramatized scenes, this is a good movie.

Be careful. Like The Fighter, this movie packs a totally unseen punch– unseen that is until you get hit. Unstoppable is a great date movie because it engages and delivers an emotional wallop that will leave any two people on a date with plenty to appreciate and talk about.

Content warnings: some language and some very tense situations and painful events.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

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Saying Goodbye to Tony Scott

I can’t believe I just wrote that headline. Last night, my dear wife, knowing full well that her news would probably affect me strongly, told me about the headline she’d just seen. Stunned, totally disbelieving, I got online and confirmed the news.

Tony Scott, brother of my all-time favorite director Ridley Scott, had thrown himself off a bridge in LA, ending his own life.

I was dumbfounded. Flummoxed. How could this be?

I never met Tony Scott, but through his movies, I felt like I knew him a little. The scenes in Man on Fire where Denzel’s rage is allowed to develop and the light and the frenetic moments– these showed me that Tony Scott had a dramatic and decent heart. Fury is not pleasant; violence should not be glorified. Violence might be a necessity, because you do NOT do terrible things to sweet little girls, but it was not to be glorified.

In Crimson Tide, The Last Boy Scout, and Spy Game, stories about honor, duty, human decency, and determination are told. We also see a respect for sacrifice and a disdain for abuse of authority, hypocrisy, and dishonesty.

I adored Unstoppable. There’s a finely tuned ear that honed the dialogue and the rhythm of the exchanges between characters in that film. There’s an honor, a reverence, for heroism and self-sacrifice. There’s an honesty about people with flaws who find a reason to reach beyond themselves.

Then there’s The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. I think this is one of Tony Scott’s finest films. Your every day schlub is set back on his heels, confused by sudden brutality, and has to find a way to cope with a maniac. The schlub is weak-kneed, constantly questioning whether he belongs in this situation, but when it comes down to helping people, he steps up.

Ridley Scott is my favorite director of all time. Tony Scott is my second favorite. (FYI, Peter Weir is #3.)

The world has lost a man with a great eye for light, a great head for action and rhythm, and a storyteller of the highest caliber. I don’t know why Tony Scott took his own life. I can’t begin to imagine what pain and/or illness moved him to such a drastic, heartbreaking, final, and tragic step. I send my love and prayers to his family and call upon film-lovers the world over to celebrate Tony Scott and his contributions to the world and the art of film by popping some corn, grabbing a cold beverage, and immersing yourselves in one of his films. Be drawn in by his leads’ heroism, the frenetic action, the character of light, and the sensitivity to sound and silence.

Celebrate him and let your love of his work carry his spirit to a happier place.

I invite all readers to share in the comments your favorite movie experience created by Tony Scott. Feel free to pass this post along; I’d love to bask in everyone’s appreciation of this remarkable artist.

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