Railways are an ever-present of the United States. The countless lines stretch over hundreds of miles of disparate terrain, transporting passenger and freight to every corner of the nation. Trains are, it could be argued, the lifeblood of our nation. That is, of course, until something goes terribly wrong.
Tony Scott's Unstoppable somehow manages to ascend above the usual trappings of a "movie about a runaway train" to provide a thrilling, heart thumping look at disaster on the rails.
Unstoppable stars Chris Pine as Will, a blue collar guy from Stanton, Pa. He's a union kid with family connections who became a conductor just four months out of training. Denzel Washington plays opposite him as Frank. Like many of the company's older employees, Frank is being edged out to make way for a fresh batch of young upstarts. When he and Will are paired together for what should be a simple run, they both get more than they bargained for.
Frank views Will suspiciously, carefully scrutinizing the man who may one day take his job. He doesn't think the young newcomer, fresh out of training, is up for the job.
"This ain't training," Frank says. "In training they just give you an F. Out here you get killed."
The two learn they have more to worry about than each other, however, when a 1,000,000 ton train carrying hazardous chemicals barrels toward them. Worse still, there's nobody running it.
The film is a rare one: Unstoppable is filled to the brim with clichés, from corporate bumbling to the conflict between young and old. Even its premise - that of a runaway train - is certain to get eyeballs rolling. Despite its hokey trappings, though, the movie is gripping and tense, drawing audiences in to witness the impending disaster as it unfolds.
Scott is confident enough as a director that we are allowed to suspend our disbelief and just enjoy the show. All of the action is taken in with deft camerawork; trains scream by at blinding speeds, with helicopters buzzing alongside at dangerously low altitudes. Moviegoers are hard-pressed not to cringe when the half-mile missile speeds toward another train - this one full of noisy, excited schoolchildren on a field trip. The rapid cuts between the two trains, one of life, and one, ostensibly, of death, raise the stakes considerably.
Strangely enough, Scott directed another train film just last year. By all rights, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, his previous film, should have been the superior effort. John Travolta playing a villain in a remake of a John Carpenter movie? The concept, compared to the formula of Unstoppable, was gold. Somehow, though, Unstoppable manages to succeed in every area where Pelham fails, and then some.
When the trailer for the 2010 film was first released, moviegoers could easily have made the case that Scott had taken the plot of Pelham and replaced Travolta with a freight train. Now that I have seen Unstoppable, however, there is no denying it: Train is better than Travolta.
Audiences looking for a thrill are certain to get one in Unstoppable, the wholly entertaining tale of a runaway train and the two men determined to stop it.
Josh Snyder is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a senior at Arizona State University.