Movie Review: “Unstoppable”

By  | 

Tony Scott-Denzel Washington’s collaborations (“The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3,” “Deja Vu,” “Man on Fire”) mirror those of superbly recurring director-actor combos: Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio and Tim Burton-Johnny Depp. They work together so well you can bet you’ll be seeing another stellar work on screen.

“Unstoppable” is inspired by a true event in 2001 when a train departed from a railyard in Ohio, unmanned for 66 miles. There was no casualty in that incident, but the movie steps up the suspense by taking on the “what-if?” scenario.

There is an air of resentment when veteran railroad engineer Frank Barnes (Washington) meets his junior, Will Colson (Chris Pine of “Star Trek”) on his first day as the rail conductor. The situation reflects an all-too-real “new economy” where baby boomers are forced to retire and replaced by their younger counterparts. As the nepotism-hired new kid on the block,  Will isn’t too eager to listen to the ridicules and sarcastically shoots back.

Fright hits the rail center managed by Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) when a freight train, loaded with toxic chemicals accidentally runs sans its engineer (Ethan Suplee) at full-throttle speed. Unless stopped or derailed, this “missile on wheels” (the size of the Chrysler building) will continue to barrel down past farmlands and small towns, and eventually through an elevated curvy track toward the densely populated city of Stanton (population of 752,000). Galvin (Kevin Dunn), Connie’s supervisor at corporate (and his higher-up), more concerned about the company’s potentially plummeting stock prices, leads the botched attempt to stop the train on its track.

With the unmanned train picking up speed to 75 mph and the possibility of failed derailment ahead, Frank and Will take the hazardous matter into their own hands. While the two don’t necessarily turn into buddies, they’ve developed a rapport, sharing about their families – widower Frank has two teenage daughters working their way through college and Will is the father of a toddler son with a wife who has filed a restraining order against him.

Frank and Will are ordinary people placed in an out-of-the-ordinary situation who decide to do the extraordinary. They pursue the train with the plan to attach their locomotive from reverse and slow it down to a halt. The most nail-biting moment happens when Will, stormed by gravels, is missing from view. Frank’s jumping from the back of one car to another is a pure adrenaline rush. With last-minute assistance from another railyard personnel, Ned (Lew Temple), driving a pickup truck parallel to the track, Will and Frank put an end to this treacherous trajectory at last.

The undercarriage shots of the speeding metal and rumbling of locomotive commotions strike a contrast with the wooded greens and tranquility of rural Pennsylvania. Washington’s fist-pumping scene atop the train is triumphantly iconic. The efficient, edge-of-your seat execution can be attributed to its capable cast and crew. The simplistic story about a runaway train in “Unstoppable” is, plain and simple, unstoppably good.

Copyright (c) 2010. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven ( Nathalia can be reached at

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *