Comfortable and Furious

Unstoppable (2010)

He… is 18 days away from retirement.

He… is a hotshot rookie.

Together they are… in a shit movie.

That bad?

Not really bad, just the same predigested meal that Tony Scott has been voiding since Top Gun. The hyperkinetic camerawork, the two-dimensional characters, the use of predictable personality details that substitute for emotional cues, and an ocean of reaction shots. It all gets in the way of what could have been a lean and mean short story rather than mostly filler.

This really happened, right?

Well, sort of. In 2001 a train became a runaway when an engineer got off to properly line a switch and did not set the dynamic braking system. He could not get back on board and the train went on its way. The whole thing ended the way it did in the movie as a manned train connected with the runaway engine ass to ass and stopped it. It even occurred while being badly filmed by an epileptic with a meth implant until the entire locomotive plowed into a wall of cliches.

This isn’t a buddy cop film. How bad can it be?

Well, Chris Pine is the new guy, kind of a hotshot though he lacks Cruise’s lobotomized glee, while Denzel Washington plays Danny Glover. He doesn’t actually say he is too old for this shit, but his face does all the talking. He really is 72 days into a 90 day notice, is estranged from his family, and he doesn’t Play By the Rules. He is always right and assures his new partner Riggs that “In training you get an F… out here you get killed.” Who knew train engineers get killed on a regular basis? Pine has family problems that have fuck-all to do with the story, and there is artificial tension introduced by him getting his job through family connections.

They initially hate each other for stupid reasons and argue like bitches, but by the end have bonded like brothers. There is even a stupid chief who ignores a call to derail the train early, gets people killed in an attempt to stop the train (saving the company money), insists on using a derailer mechanism that he was informed would not work, and threatens to fire the two men on board the train while it is in motion. I missed the part where he demands a badge and gun from the officers/engineers. Even better, the owner makes the decision to avoid derailing the train in an unpopulated area while golfing, and only after inquiring about the anticipated drop in stock. Strange the opportunity to tie a damsel to the tracks was missed.

Why is Denzel working with Tony Scott?

Maybe he owes the guy for that Oscar he got for Man on Fire. Why stars were needed at all boggles the mind, since all anyone cares about is the train and the shit it can smash. This dull and aimless partnership between Washington and Scott isn’t as bad as late-period Ben Kingsley’s pact with his drug supplier, but give it time. Still, these movies do not need stars, just extras with dialogue like LOOK OUT and OH MY GOD. The true star is Tony Fucking Scott and his compulsion to overdo every single frame of the fucking movie.

How bad is your headache?

Every shot is shaky cam. Even the final triumphant press conference involves constant whirling cameras and whip/focus flourishes into people just sitting there. About 15 minutes of a 90 minute movie is made up of TV reporters giving exposition that the audience has already been told several times, and explanations of what happened just a minute ago. Yes, the train did not derail just now. I can see it moving. Care to define ‘derail’ for the true retards in the crowd? And there is at least 7 solid minutes solely of reaction shots to what is happening on screen, so for much of the feature, the audience was watching… an audience. Scott is so overcautious he covers every possible base with unnecessary musical cues so we know that walking on a train is dangerous, and an incinerated rescue worker’s death is really sad. Just so we don’t get bored despite a runaway train speeding toward our heroes, Scott throws in a train full of children just so we get involved.

Children are used as emotional bait?

I applaud the director for this gutsy choice – the runaway train bears down on the kids, and while they are singing and clapping, the train slams them off the tracks, their car tumbles down a hill as we hear every bone snap and skull crunch, and the whole thing bursts into flames in the ditch. Grim stuff, and the dark material really gives Unstoppable a tragic edge as well as commentary on the fickle nature of life and death in an industrial age.

Wait, what?

Just fucking with you – the train with the kids is sidelined with moments to spare, surprising nobody. Bait only works if you have no idea if it will get caught, so cute little kids in the path of a killer train did nothing for the tension.

Give some credit, kid.

Truth be told, the story is pretty good, and the fact that two engineers actually did this in real life is fucking amazing.  There are some decent shots of the train itself that lend some gravity to the situation, and one gets the impression of just how difficult one of these motherfuckers is to stop. But the whole affair is given such needless and dumbassed stylization that in the end, not a single fuck was given. With two relatively unknown stars, straightforward camerawork, spare or no music, and no cutaways to pensive family or bars full of cheering fuckheads – this could have been spectacular. It would have been like 30 minutes long, but short films are an underrated medium.