Remember back in 1994 when Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock made a movie called Speed? Most of us who saw that picture remember it as a supercharged thriller about a bomb-rigged bus loaded with people and headed for tragedy, a movie that left the viewer almost panting with tension and excitement; one of those edge of your seat pictures. Well, every now and then Hollywood does it again, comes up with a script and a director that combine to produce another of those breathless thrillers. This time it’s a 2010 movie called Unstoppable directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.
The movie is inspired by an incident they called “Crazy Eights” involving an unmanned runaway train in Ohio ten years ago. The train left a Walbridge, Ohio rail yard on a sixty-six mile journey through northwest Ohio with no one at the controls. The engineer hopped off the slow-moving train in the rail yard to pull a track switch thinking he had set the train’s dynamic braking system. The train picked up speed and he couldn’t get back on.
Unstoppable is about that runaway, a million tons of train carrying eight carriages of a highly toxic chemical and thousands of gallons of diesel fuel at seventy miles per hour and no one on board. Denzel Washington plays a veteran engineer on a different train with greenhorn conductor Chris Pine. They are headed for a nose to nose collision with the runaway train but in a very tense switch, they end up chasing the train in their one-car locomotive with the idea of locking on to the rear car and slowing it down with brakes and reverse power. The train has to be brought under control before derailing on a curve and causing a toxic spill that will wipe out an entire town.
The characters in the movie are not too finely drawn and don’t have much of what we could call depth, but for a gritty blue-collar story of men doing a hard job, the requirements are there. The main point of the script is to set up a story and play it out with as much excitement as possible. With Tony Scott as director the producers certainly got the man to do just that. Look at at his résumé and it reads like a how-to manual on exciting filmmaking. (Top Gun, The Last Boy Scout, Crimson Tide).
One aspect of the production that is especially good is the production design as well as the choice of locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. There’s little that’s pretty in Unstoppable and both characters and locations are grimed with cinder dust and oil smears. There is a thoroughly average American blue collar stamp on the production and it does much to enhance believability in the face of big Hollywood stars.
Looking for a movie to grab you by the throat? You can do a lot worse than picking up a disc of Unstoppable wherever you get your movies.