I am going to state that Unstoppable has an infranarrative about corporate America abandoning the working class of rust-belt America to save their company stock price and have a nice game of golf… Seriously. But first and foremost, this is a thrilling film about a runaway train.
Stanton, Southern Pennsylvania, veteran rail employee with 28 years on the tracks Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) is facing forced into retirement. He is called upon to train (hyuk hyuk) new employee Will Colson (Chris Pine) who is facing a restraining order from his wife preventing him from returning home. Elsewhere, a slack rail employee named Dewey sets in motion a driverless train which is carrying dangerous chemicals that could cause a huge explosion. Yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) battles with her superiors and works with the police to try and stop the train before it hits a populated area… and a train full of school children… 150 school children actually. Really. Nobody quite realises that it will be Frank Barnes and Will Colson who will save the day.
Inspired by true events, which means blown out of all proportion, the train is, “We’re talking about a missile the size of the Chrysler Building.” It’s carrying Molten Phenol and is going to crash into a set of fuel tanks in the heart of an industrial town. There are numerous attempts to stop it all of which happen at high speed.
It all starts with Dewy, a Hollywood screw-up. He’s out of shape, stuffing his face with fast-food and careless with the controls of the train. He leaves the train coasting just to save time as he hits a switch. The train turns from coaster to a primal metallic beast screaming out of America’s primordial industrial past.
This is where the infranarrative about corporate America sacrificing heavy industry and all who sail in her emerges.
The imagery in the film reinforces it. Forests and train yards full of huge industrial trains, shots of rusting buildings, crumbling brick-work, working-class people risking their lives.
People like Frank Barnes. He is being forced to retire on half-pay whilst his two daughters are working at female exploitation café Hooters to pay their way through college (coincidentally, a Hooters recently opened around the corner from the cinema I watched this in much to my disbelief).
But I digress. Small town America is in the path of this beast that is crushing all in its way and threatening massive destruction because corporate America with its slick offices and nice golf courses wants to save money by not derailing the train. Which leads to a series of exciting attempts to stop the train.
Tony Scott uses editing to ramp up the speed and tension throughout the whole thing. It is his typical style of ceaseless hyper-active editing, mixing tracking shots, close-shots, shot reverse shot, crosscutting, handheld camera, intercutting, long-shots, match cutting, with trains… Hell, any trick in the editing library he can lay his hands on to keep the rhythm fast with the speeding train and police convoys.
Tony Scott’s previous film The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3. was surprisingly gripping for me. It is the same with this film. Tony Scott’s fifth collaboration with Denzel Washington has delivered a great thriller. There are amusing end titles if you stay but that is just the icing on a very exciting cake.