Saturday, July 2, 2011

Unstoppable (2010)

Chris Pine driving the train.
     I don't know how much examination Unstoppable (2010) merits.  It has the lighting and color effects that Tony Scott prefers for most of the movie (though there are entire scenes in the rescue engine, in the towns, and the stand-in news shots that are downright normal).  The other James T. Kirk is one of the two men who must prevent disaster -- what are the chances they will succeed?  At its roots, Unstoppable is a paean to the soul of the working man.  Great, but also somewhat hollow for a big-budget action film with highly paid, bonafide stars.
     Screenwriter Matt Bomback and director Scott combine to craft a Pennsylvania where the government and police are answerable to the AWVR railroad corporation.  We know that the top-level brass of this corporation are out of touch and (perhaps) evil because we see them on the golf course, dressed in suits in highrise offices (with good views), and unwilling to share their deliberations with on-sight management.  We know that our heroes are good because they: a) buy doughnuts for visiting schoolchildren, b) call their children to tell them that they are loved, and c) love their wives enough to threaten supposed threats to the marriage with a gun.
Chris Pine at the helm of a different vehicle.
     The story doesn't make much sense, but maybe that is from the real-life events.  When the train starts going out of control, the yard full of workers laugh at the man responsible and make no effort to do anything to stop the train.  It is an easy jog at this point.  Nobody every really knows where the train is, but they know where it has tripped the sensors -- information that is available immediately.  It takes until the end of the movie to try putting someone aboard from a truck, and by that time they figure out that it is easier to jump from the bed of a pick-up truck than from the front seat.  Somebody -- I don't know who -- thinks that unions aren't considered a good thing in Pennsylvania.  Pine's character is derided for being union and having connections.  Incidentally, unions feed off of having connections.  That is how families look out for their own.  This isn't considered a bad thing in working class PA.  It is a layer of protection against corporate America.
We're the good guys.  Look how we're dressed.
     As an aspirational blockbuster, Unstoppable isn't bound by the laws of physics.  Freight cars are apparently made of plywood and nails.  Railroad crossings are only triggered as the train is going through them (they are clearly not subject to the same regulations that the real world imposes).  Trains can lilt to one side but fall back onto the tracks and keep going at full speed.  None of this would be annoying if the movie had any sense of fun or whimsy.  But it is so desperate to earnest in the danger and courage it is depicting that it stands out as atonal.
      I imagine the difficulty of making a train moving along the tracks look dangerous is analogous to making submarines look dynamic in their movement.  Large, relatively slow-moving vehicles that are not threatened by their surrounding (and in the case of submarines change direction very slowly) are just moving objects.  Oh no!  That train is moving.
     I guess I wouldn't recommend Unstoppable.  It feels longer than it is.  It takes the concept of the stock character too far for my tastes.  It doesn't convey any real sense of danger to the audience.  It just kind of is on the screen, a temporary impediment to doing something else.  If I were to recommend a Scott brothers film about the dangers of corporate greed and the determination of the working class, I'd suggest Alien (1979).

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