It seems like Hollywood is looking to real life for inspiration for motion picture stories a lot these days, and the latest "Inspired By True Events" tale to grace the big screen is Tony Scott's Unstoppable. The film involves a runaway, unmanned train that accidentally rolls out of a small town in Pennsylvania and barrels down the tracks at an alarming 70 miles per hour. The real life event, however, starts somewhat similarly, but the true 2001 events not only took place in Ohio, but they also never saw the train even reach 50mph. So, to say that Scott's fictionalized take on the event is embelished would be somewhat of an understatement.
Regardless of the inflated reality of the film, Unstoppable actually works very well as a tense thriller. The plot follows Denzel Washington's veteran Frank Barnes and Chris Pine's rookie Will Colson on a high-speed race against time through the hills and forests of rural Pennsylvania. Scott films the movie with a bit of a music-video eye, creating a feel not too far off from a marriage of his own 2006 film Déjà Vu (which also featured Denzel) and that of the small town-centered Twister (1996). Like the latter, the film almost works as a monster movie in the sense that the chief nemesis for our heroes is a seemingly unstoppable force. Train #777 (not sure why they chose such a train number for the movie) is not only red in color but ominous in its portrayal on screen. Like the tornadoes in Twister, it's a force to be reckoned with and it takes more than our central heroes to try to band together to survive the inanimate foe. But it's the hip film shading, edits, and camera tricks that make Unstoppable feel a lot like Scott's Déjà Vu (not to mention the presence of Washington in both). But unlike Scott's previous venture, Unstoppable's camera almost never stops for longer than a couple seconds. Even when characters are shouting into a phone while standing behind an office desk or terminal, the camera is often whizzing around the subject. It does get tiresome fast, but, admittedly, it's a gimmick that helps keep the tension building and sustained throughout the entire film's running time. It's one of the movies that you're likely to feel exhausted from by the time the credits roll.
But Scott and company know what the right ingredients are for an entertaining movie and Unstoppable is certainly one of them. From the moment the trains get rolling, the movie is in high gear, even when characters are just talking. As stated before, the tension never lets up during this loud film and it helps keep the audience involved in the story. Denzel Washington is his usual reliably solid actor self as Barnes, although his character isn't much different than most of his previous ones. Still, fairly newcomer Chris Pine, who's most recognizable for last year's Star Trek reboot as James T. Kirk, is a great rookie colleague for Washington's Barnes and their scenes together are the charm of the film. Pine played the small town hero well as Kirk and steps into those brand of shoes easily again as Will Colson. Rosario Dawson is good as Connie, who aids Barnes and Colson in directing them in their unplanned pursuits of stopping the train, but doesn't entirely stand out remarkably from the small bunch.
Aside from the whirling camera work, I found the most frustrating thing about Unstoppable to be the amount of profanity. Sure, while it can't hold a candle to the amount in this summer's The Other Guys, Unstoppable contained frequent profanity, even for moments when the camera would cut to a character just for us to hear them swear before the camera cut back to the speeding locomotive. The content was light on everything else, with only a few brief views of a boot with blood on it and some references to Barnes' daughters working at Hooters and then seeing them suited up in the establishment's iconic attire while at work. The profanity contained one quick, audible "F" word from Pine, while the goofball who caused to train to roll out of control is visibly shown emphatically mouthing the "F" word and then partially mouthing it soon after the first time. Quite a few uses of blasphemy were also in the movie, along with almost 20 uses of the "S" word. The small town setting of rural Pennsylvania made Unstoppable feel somewhat of a family kind of heroic tale (or, I should say, it could have been), but the language used by the characters made it anything but that. I kept thinking how much more enjoyable the movie would be without all of it.
In the end, Unstoppable was a lot more entertaining and intriguing than I originally thought after watching the film's trailer. I've never been a big fan of trains, but Tony Scott and team did a great job taking a real life event and injecting some adrenaline and steroids into the concept to pump it up for the larger-than-life big screen. Unstoppable is a good thriller but suffers from overused profanity and gimmicky camera work.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/1/10)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Untoppable is a good thriller for fans of anyone in the film's cast or train-themed movies in general. However, the spinning camera does tire after awhile and repeat viewings of the film might not hold up quite as well as the first time (not to mention, I found the frequent profanity to be a bit much). However, the Blu-Ray release of Unstoppable offers a few nice extras to enjoy if you want to look deeper into the story and making of the film. Along with the Blu-Ray disc is a second disc, a digital copy of the feature film. Unfortunately, FOX continues with the trend of not including a regular DVD copy of the film as well (other studios have managed to mix the DVD and digital copy onto one disc effectively, or just include a download code to get a digital copy that way).
The Fastest Track: Unleashing Unstoppable (29:41) - This is an overview of the movie's production, emphasizing how director Tony Scott aimed for realism in the filming of the movie. It begins with how they started with the script and the inspiration for the story, researched about working on trainyards for a living, and location scouting. The featurette then tackles the action, how Scott pursued filming realistically and what that entailed. This featurette is really fascinating because this is definitely one of those movies that you keep thinking "Wait, how did they do that?!" while watching it. They then cover the constantly moving camera and the intended feel that that gives -- even when the camera is zipping around Rosario Dawson's stationary character in her office. The final parts of the featurette focus on "The Beast" itself - the runaway locomotive, shooting the train, controlling it, and even how they filmed pieces of train sets moving on a track. It's a pretty comprehensive look at the making of Unstoppable that features the central cast and crew and is well worth watching.
Derailed: Anatomy of a Scene (10:01) - This takes a detailed look into the sequence where the filmmakers rigged a two-car train to derail. It's possibly the first time it's ever been filmed quite like this for a movie. There's a nice amount of on-set footage, theatrical footage and even different angles from the original shoot. It's a great extra to delve deeper into Scott's style of filming and how they accomplished their goal of making the movie look real (Note: one of the crewmembers does use the "F" word once in this featurette).
Hanging Off the Train: Stunt Work (14:25) - This segment focuses on some of the action stunt work done for Unstoppable. It starts out with the sequence where a real-life young Afghanistan veteran was hung from a 60 foot cable dangling from a helicopter as they tried to drop him onto the moving train. Director Tony Scott describes the stunt in detail himself. Next, Scott talks about the grain car that dumps tons of "grain" onto Chris Pine during one of the action sequences. He reveals that the grain was substituted for cereal (which basically looks like Honey Smacks) and the fact that 10,000 pounds of it was used for three different takes! Next, Pine talks about dangling from between two moving train cars and how much of the actual stunt work he was able to do versus a what the stunt guy filling in for him had to do. We then see how they filmed Denzel Washington actually running across the top of a moving train at 50 miles per hour (and hear the actor speaking rather candidly about it). To wrap up, the final stunt shows how they filmed a character jumping to and from the train, with some great footage and interviews included.
On the Rails: A Conversation with Director and Cast (13:25) - This is a mix of behind-the-scenes footage and a sit-down chat between director Tony Scott and actors Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, and Rosario Dawson. It's a fantastic bonus that has the actors and director reflecting on the filmmaking process, working together, the script, and the process of making Unstoppable. It's interesting to watch and neat to hear them all casually reflecting on this and related film experiences. It's something I honestly wonder why more filmmakers don't assemble for more movies. (As far as profanity, there's only 1 "s" word)
Tracking the Story: Unstoppable Script Development (98:30) - This has the script writers chatting amongst themselves about the particular scenes and how they changed over the process of the film's production. It's interesting, too, because it sounds like you're listening in on a conversation that was recorded around a coffee table or in a small, intimate room. The conversation is a full feature-length audio commentary track for the film. There's also a separate audio track from director Tony Scott.
Overall, the features help give viewers a greater appreciation for what Unstoppable was attempting to achieve and managed to pull off. It's an entertaining thriller that is sure to keep you glued to your seat, despite some of its flaws. Those who loved the movie will definitely want to grab this in high definition and check out these making-of extras!
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/17/11)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: We see Will sleeping on a couch shirtless, and see him in his briefs for just a moment as he stands up; We hear that Frank's daughters work at Hooters, which causes Will to laugh; We see one of Frank's daughters in her apartment with a music video on in the background that shows some scantily clad dancers; We see Frank's daughters working at Hooters and showing some cleavage along with other waitresses; We hear the story of a man who thought his wife was cheating on him only to find that she wasn't
1 "f" word" (and two mouthed ones); 17 "s" words, 11 "g-dd-mn," 9 "a" words, 3 "a--h*le," 15 "h*ll," 9 "d*mn," 2 "S.O.B," 1 "p*ssy," 1 "d*ckhead," 1 "J-sus Chr-st," 1 "J-sus," 2 "Chr-st," 1 "L-rd," 4 derivatives of "G*d" (like "Oh my G-d" and "G-d"); Also, Gilleece gives Ned "the finger" twice in one scene.
We see some people possibly drinking at Hooters
A man's foot gets caught and crushed, leaving the boot covered in blood. We never see the foot injury, just a couple shot of the man's boot with blood on it; We briefly see a closeup of a hand with bloody knuckles
A train hits an empty horse trailer, demolishing it; A small train tries to slow down the speeding train but gets derailed and blows up, killing the driver; As cop cars try to catch up with the train, two collide and one flips several times; A man tries to stomp a pin in place between two trains and his foot is clamped between them; A man jumps off a train while it's speeding, then onto the train; A man tries to grab onto a moving train but falls to the ground; A few officers fire rifles at the train, trying to hit a brake button
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.