When you sit down to watch Unstoppable, be sure your beverages are at hand, your popcorn is popped, and your bathroom breaks have already been completed; you are not going to put this film on pause. Director Tony Scott has taken the (highly fictionalized) heroic story of two men who averted an unthinkable disaster, added the perfect cast, and delivered a film that deserves every superlative—especially most electrifying, heart-stopping, pulse-pounding, and exciting (a word so overused, it barely captures the pace of Unstoppable).
This is a story that is so susceptible to contrivances, Scott must have had his cameras—or his scriptwriters and consultants—inoculated before he started filming. Two men, a veteran engineer (Denzel Washington) and a conductor trainee (Chris Pine), set off on a rather routine trip. A rail yard worker with a bit of an attitude gets a little lazy in doing his job; the result is a runaway train carrying highly toxic, flammable chemicals headed for a trainful of schoolkids on a train-safety field trip (see how easily this could be contrived?). The runaway train’s next “target” is that train on the “routine” trip; after that, it’s a city of 750,000 people with an elevated curved track, from which the train will probably jettison (because it is exceeding the 15 mph limit by about 65 mph) into fuel storage tanks. The probable outcome? Exploding fuel tanks, exploding tank cars, toxic wasteland, wide-spread destruction.
Since Unstoppable was “inspired by true events,” the audience knows (pretty much) how it’s going to end. In no way does that relieve the tension that builds as we watch the train hurtle down the tracks. Cinema History students are told the story about early moving-picture audiences that panicked when they watched a film of a train coming towards them. Those audiences would have dropped dead on the spot viewing Unstoppable.Continued on the next page