Unstoppable (2011)

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Denzel Washington Battles a Runaway Train in Unstoppable

Nov 18, 2010 (Updated Jun 1, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Entertaining movie.  Washington and Pine.

Cons: Jerky camera work in some scenes.

The Bottom Line: Unstoppable is an entertaining movie that is worth seeing, especially for fans of the cast.


Denzel Washington has made a lot of movies during his career.  I usually like his movies, and I will give most of his new movies a chance when they come out.  I have been interested in seeing Unstoppable since I first saw a trailer a few months ago.

Conductor Will Colson is assigned to work with engineer Frank Barnes, a man who has worked for the railroad for many years.  The two men haven't worked together before and there is a bit of tension between them at first.  In another rail yard, a group of children will be arriving on a field trip.  Two men are told to move a train to another spot in the yard.  Dewey won't take the time to hook up the air brakes because he is in a hurry to get the train moved.  He leaves the locomotive to switch the tracks despite being told not to do to.  Some of the levers move by themselves, causing the train to start gaining speed and Dewey is unable to reboard the train and it leaves the rail yard on a main track.

The yardmaster, Connie Hooper, is told about the train.  Connie believes that it isn't moving that fast and that they will be able to stop it within a few miles with the help of Ned, a welder working for the railroad.  It doesn't take long for Ned to figure out that the train is moving much faster than they believed.  Connie starts working to make sure all other trains are off the track while also trying to come up with a way to stop the train.  After learning about the situation, Frank and Will decide to try to help with the situation.

Unstoppable is inspired by events that happened in 2001.  I did look up information about the real incident after seeing the movie.  A train did end up leaving a rail yard without anyone on board.  From what I read, it sounds like the way that happened is close to how it was shown in the movie, with the worker getting out of the locomotive to change a switch and something happening that caused the train to pick up enough speed that the worker couldn't get back on.  Certain things have been added to the movie, or exaggerated, to make things more dramatic.  There are a few things that happen during the movie that I think were added just to add a bit of drama.

Things start off a little slow in Unstoppable as the situation is set up.  Will is shown before he gets to work, while Frank's first appearance is when the two men meet.  Will has an issue in his personal life that he's trying to deal with that pops up once or twice during the movie.  There is a tiny bit more background type of stuff shared about Will, especially early in the movie, though more comes out about Frank later.  The reason for the tension between the men is touched on, though not in a lot of depth.  It really doesn't take that long for things to start happening, and once it is clearer what is happening with the train, the pace picks up a lot.  The faster pace works with what is going on, helping to add a feeling of urgency, without making things feel too rushed.

Right from the beginning, Unstoppable jumps back and forth, focusing on different characters.  A short scene focuses on Will, and then it jumps to showing something happening at the rail yard.  Then it jumps back to Will before switching focus again to show something else.  That happens throughout the movie, though later, it stays more focused on Frank and Will in their train and Connie at the rail yard trying to figure out how to deal with the situation.  The runaway train is shown at different times as well.  Jumping around like that does work for the movie.  While the plot is interesting and entertaining, it isn't that complicated.  There is a little bit of suspense and tension in a few scenes, though many things that happen are more predictable.  That didn't bother me because I thought the movie was still entertaining.

There ends up being a decent amount of action in Unstoppable, most of it tied to the runaway train in some way.  The train is traveling really fast, and there are one or two incidents at crossings that cause some sort of destruction.  There are close calls between the out of control train and other trains.  A few ideas are developed to deal with the train, and those things also add a little bit of action.  Those things help to keep the pace moving and keep things interesting.  Even though there is action in some scenes, this really isn't what I think of as a typical action movie.  Shaky camera work and quick cuts are used in several scenes throughout the movie, making it more difficult to tell exactly what is being shown at times.  I detest shaky camera work and wish directors would knock that off already.  All it does is annoy me.

The characters are interesting in Unstoppable, though none of them are really developed that much.  Frank has two daughters in college and has been working for the railroad for many years.  He knows his job and knows what can and can't be done in different situations.  Denzel Washington does well with the part.  Frank's daughters are briefly seen in a few short scenes without them really doing much.

Will has only been done with the training to be a conductor a few months.  He isn't an idiot, but he does mess up at times.  Will is a bit distracted by a personal problem with his marriage.  He seems nice enough and Chris Pine does fine with the part.  Will's wife Darcy and their son are only in a few short scenes, so they receive even less development.  They seem to be there just to add a few complications for Will.

Connie is in charge at the rail yard and trying to deal with the situation.  Someone higher up at the company intends to blame her for the problem and tries to lock her out of helping.  She isn't completely sure what to do at first, but she stays relatively calm and works to find a solution.  Rosario Dawson is fine in the part, though the way she kept putting her hair in a pony tail and then pulling it out a minute later annoyed me a bit.  Kevin Dunn is in a few scenes as Gavin, a man with a higher position in the company.  He is arrogant and a jerk.  Ned is the guy that Connie sends to help with the train.  He seems a bit wild, but he is very determined.  Lew Temple does fine with the part.  Ethan Suplee doesn't have a lot to do as Dewey, but the character certainly looks like an idiot with what he does and then how he chooses to deal with it.

Main Cast

Rosario Dawson - Connie
Kevin Dunn - Gavin    
Chris Pine - Will Colson
Ethan Suplee - Dewey
Lew Temple - Ned
Denzel Washington - Frank

Tony Scott - Director

Unstoppable has some issues with character development and shaky camera work, but the movie is very entertaining and worth watching, especially for fans of the cast.

*This review was orignally posted after I saw the movie in the theater. It is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Denzel Washington Movie Reviews
American Gangster ~ Bone Collector ~ Deja Vu ~ Inside Man ~ Man on Fire ~ The Manchurian Candidate ~ Out of Time ~ The Pelican Brief ~ The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 ~


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